Baby chimps often arrive at a rescue centre both physically and mentally compromised. The place, which is run under Ape Action Africa, cares for those terrified, ill, injured and traumatized little animals. One of those caregivers, however, is among the most poignant part of those chimps’ lives. His name is SandaAnaclet.
For the last 12 years, Anaclet, a local Cameroonian man, has been working among those very orphaned chimps. Aside from treating their injuries and nurturing them back to their full health, he’s also usually the first in line that the rescued animals have contact with.
“Sanda always introduces himself to the new arrivals calmly, waits until they are ready to approach him and uses food treats to start the bonding process,” said Tamara De Juana, operations coordinator at Ape Action Africa. “Building a trustful relationship between caregivers and orphans is fundamental for the well-being of the apes and will then allow and guide the integration process with other chimpanzees.”
The fact that most of the arrived chimps have been surviving in an extremely harsh environment cannot be overlooked. Many of them have witnessed their parents’ murders, killed with the intention of captivity. According to Ape Action Africa, since chimps are wild animals, they shouldn’t be kept as pets. As they grow into their full size, they become tough to handle. Due to this, many owners consider proper care a hassle and end up chaining them up, while in some cases, even putting them in cages.
“When orphans come in, they are usually traumatized and have a fragile emotional state,” De Juana believed. “Being able to bond and to trust a caregiver is part of their healing process. This bond is necessary for their stability helps with their feedings and with the administration of any medical treatment that they might need.”
Ape Action Africa isn’t short on great caregivers. However, no one can deny Anaclet’s superhuman ability to make the chimps trust him. He has a special touch with them. So much so that, in fact, he is the first person the traumatized orphans run to when they have a problem. Whether they’re afraid, sick or just in need of a groomer, Anaclet is usually everybody’s first choice. De Juana says that they also love it when Anaclet takes naps with them.
“Usually the youngest babies get tired after exploring the forest or playing with the other babies, so they search for a place to nap. Some of them decide to sleep on the branches or with another baby, but most of them prefer to nap next to Sanda,” De Juana continued.
“Each relationship with the babies is developed in a different way,” Anaclet says. “They are like people — they have different personalities and there are not two the same. They are very intelligent animals.”
However, this relationship didn’t come to Anaclet for free. He suffered from two different forms of filariasis, an infectious disease caused by parasitic worms in 2016. It even put him in a coma. His eventual recovery was possible, but he lost most of his vision. Despite this, he continues working. In fact, he admits that it’s inspired him to contribute even more to the well-being of the rescued animals.
“He has adapted incredibly well,” De Juana said. “He doesn’t feel limited in his job and he has the full support of everyone at the sanctuary.”
The caregivers might have great, trusting bonds with the chimps, but their priority lies in letting the animals form a valid relationship with their own kind. The unity, hopefully, is what increases their possibility of returning home.
“Chimpanzees are not meant to live with humans as pets, [and] chimpanzees should be with chimpanzees where they belong in the wild,” De Juana said. “The hands-on human care we give unfortunately is a necessity in order to keep the infants alive, and we focus on the importance of getting them into family groups and giving them back the life they deserve, which is with others of their own kind, not with humans.”
Devoted to the cause of helping the chimps get the best life they deserve, Anaclet is giving his all to the centre.
“Since I started working with apes, my perception of this animal has changed totally,” Ancelet said. “I love chimpanzees and I want to protect them — it is not right to hunt or eat them.”
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