Survivor, Ngamba Islands’ new champion chimpanzee

March 27th was the day. As the new day’s sun rose in all its glory to brighten the lives of the 47 chimps habituated at Chimpanzee

Sanctuary on Ngamba Island, Afrika, a resilient adult chimpanzee was giving life to a baby male chimpanzee after undergoing an implant nine months back.

Overwhelmed by the surprise, Nagoti and Connie, some of the peers with whom she shares a room in the caged holding facility, took their emotions to the next level and lost it unknowingly. Anxious to nurse the sanctuary’s latest addition, Nagoti could not help but snatch the baby from her mother’s hands.
Fortunately or unfortunately, before she could feel her heartbeat, Connie and the newborn’s mother were already trailing her, and that is when all hell broke loose. The trio got into a melee.

For over 10 minutes, life degenerated into a heated exchange of kicks and punches as everyone struggled to feel the newborn’s pulse. In the process, they kept jerking him back and forth with more force than is necessary. Before all knew it, the vulnerable baby had sustained a deep cut in his skull and multiple fractures in his arms. He cried out in pain. Luckily, his cries did not fall on deaf ears. They awoke the caregivers residing in the immediate banda who dashed to his rescue and restored order in the holding facility.

But in order to get the newborn who urgently required medical attention, the caregivers had to direct all the chimps from their cells and out into the forest. The baby was then rushed to the sanctuary clinic. The sanctuary, run by Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservation Trust (CSWCT), a Non-Governmental Organization, is home to 48 orphaned chimps rescued from all over Uganda.

Situated 23km offshore from Entebbe, in Lake Victoria Uganda, beautiful Ngamba Island is almost 100 acres in size and boasts over 50 different types of vegetation that chimps utilize: the chimps are free to roam at their will, exploring their environment and foraging for food. Island facilities offer day and overnight visitors an exceptional opportunity to closely observe and interact with these fascinating great apes in this unique setting.

Dr. Joshua Rukundo, the trust’s veterinarian/conservation programs director, said 24 hours after his admission, the baby was still fragile and lifeless with almost no sign that he would live to see the next day. But surprisingly, not only did the frail baby live to see another day but many more weeks ahead; his condition moving from worse to promising and eventually to much better.

At the time of writing this story, Survivor as he is now known had grown from 1.5kg to a whopping 2.5kg in a space of only six weeks! He eats more, sleeps more, and plays more! He is growing more and more hair as his skin toughens to become resistant to the forest environment that will soon become his home. ‘Survivor’s miraculous recovery was made possible with the help of volunteers like Allison, a wildlife enthusiast from the USA, who has been a regular visitor at the sanctuary since it was opened in 1998.’ Says Lilly Ajarova, CSWCT Executive Director.

The 47-year-old executive director’s face beams with apparent happiness as she narrates what she calls “the most fulfilling mothering experience” she has ever had.
For now, Survivor has to have limited contact with the outside world or she risks passing on infections from the visitors the young verve chimp. It means Ajarova now has to groom Survivor in a way that reflects the personality of the primates. From the way she hoots to the way she breathes, everything must be consistent with the wild untamed lifestyle of the chimpanzees.

Taking care of these chimpanzees is evidently a very demanding job requiring way over 24 hours of constant attention and observation. Luckily, Allison is not the only one charged with the Job, she is assisted by Betty Anjiku 45, a renowned caregiver who has mothered over 10 chimps on the island.

Ajarova says Survivor should be joining the main group in about eight months, given his steady progress.

Look out for the next issue of View Uganda for updates on Survivor.

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