Most of the chimps brought to the CWO were confiscated from poachers and smugglers that tried to smuggle them into Zambia for the local pet trade. Others are snapped up by dealers who smuggle them out of Africa to feed the worldwide demand for pets, zoo exhibits and laboratories. Trade in chimpanzees is banned in most countries, but there is a thriving black marcket. The mother and any other protective relative have to be killed in order to take the offspring for sale, a pattern of waste occurring throughout Africa and resulting in five or more deaths for every chimp that reaches a local buyer. This appalling slaughter has put the chimpanzee on the road to extinction. As chimpanzee is one of the endangered species, and since poaching and destruction of their natural habitat continues to occur at an alarming rate, the work being done at places like chimfunshi is vital to their long term survival.
When the mostly immature chimps arrive they often have severe health problems such as malnutrition, dehydration and bodily wounds. Because they are captured in a destructive manner they are also severely traumatized and suffer from various kinds of mental social stress symptoms. Most need constant social care for weeks, and sometimes months after their arrival, as well as special dietry and medical treatment. All required personal care must be provided by the Siddles themselves. It is generalized accepted by the world, leading authorities that the reintroduction of displaced chimps into their natural environment where groups of wild chimps exist is virtually impossible. Because there is no hope of sending them back to their countries of origin, nor can they be released into Zambia's national parks, the Siddles had to create their own final release site. The CWO is situated on a 10,000 acre cattle ranch, bordering the Kafue and the Muchila Rivers in northern Zambia. On the farm a lot of food needed for both human and orphan wildlife consumption must be grown. The farm includes some thickly wooded areas, which because of abundance of wild fruit trees and other types of food, makes them suitable for chimps and ideal sites for the two projects that the Siddles had in mind.
The first stage was completed in 1989. What was nick-named "the Great Wall of Zambia" took two years to build it, seven acres of prime woodland and encircled by a four meter high and 600 meter long wall made out of concrete blocks and sliced off at one end by the Kafue River which forms a natural barrier preventing the chimps from escaping. On top of the wall they put electric wire to prevent the chimps from climbing over. They were soon to find out that nothing can prevent a chimp from escaping if he or she is determined to do so.
The daily work starts at 6:30 a.m. when the chimps awake. They get their breakfast which contains cooked maize, meal balls mixed with garlic and salt. The meals are provided in the building cages. At 10:00 a.m. the latest arrivals, 6 young chimps, are taken out by their caretaker for their daily walks in the forest. The Siddles had to employ another man to look after these newcomers before they can be integrated with the other youngsters. During these walks the chimps feed on local vegetation and this provides an opportunity to learn an appropriate foraging behaviour. It also serves to familiarize the chimps with local conditions in anticipation of their coming release.
Integration into social groups is a long and slow process. Sheila Siddle has learned from experience that the process cannot be rushed. The chimps have to learn to get together, to trust each other and to form friendships and alliances to support each other in time of trouble and conflict. Even when apparent success has been achieved, rivalries among the chimps (male or female) trying to establish their dominance in the group can cause problems. Being confined to a relatively small area, chimps can develop severe personality conflicts and may have to be removed from the group. Part of the integration process includes moving the chimps to different cages to co-habit with different partners. After some months living in the same complex, adjacent cages they can be released in the enclosure.
Meeting old friends:
During earlier visits to the CWO I had developed a special relationship with one of the young males, Sandy. Then in 1988 he was just a naughty little boy but when I saw him back he had grown into an impressive giant. Because of repeated attempts trying to escape from the 14 acres enclosure, he was temporarily locked up separated from the other chimps.
Supporting groups have been founded in Sweden, England, South Africa, Germany, the Netherlands, and the USA. This year the Siddles received the Jane Goodall Award for their lifetime dedication to the welfare of chimpanzees. The prize was presented to them by Jane Goodall herself during her visit to the CWO in February this year.