Africa, Environment, Headlines

ZAMBIA: Africa’s Largest Chimpanzee Park To Open Its Doors Soon

Namasiku Ilukena

LUSAKA, Nov 20 1998 (IPS) - Way back in 1983, 67-year-old Sheila Siddle came across a male chimpanzee being sold at the open market for food in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, then Zaire. She bought it, but not for the pot.

The young chimpanzee had cuts on its face and missing teeth, deliberately broken to stop it from biting his captors. The malnourished animal weighed only 7.5 kilogrammes and was weakened by a severe bout of diarrhoea.

Siddle, a veterinary, was so touched by its condition that she decided to devote part of her cattle ranch into a chimpanzee sanctuary. The core business of Sheila and her husband, David, is raising beef and dairy cattle for the nearby miners’s market.

As word about the sanctuary spread, more chimpanzees were donated to the preserve from as far afield as Russia, Germany, the United Arab Emirates, Kenya and Tanzania.

Today there are 68 chimpanzees on the 25-acre of land – which is part of the original cattle ranch.

Some of these primates were seized by Zambian game rangers from wildlife traffickers ferrying them from Zaire to markets in South Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

Some were donated by foreign governments which seized them from poachers and illegal traders and had no intention of putting them in a zoo.

Zambia has no known wild chimpanzee population but the Siddles, have set their eyes on an ambitious plan to host the world’s largest semi-captivity sanctuary of the huge animals.

The park will be situated in the remote corner of the Copperbelt region of Zambia. “There are plans to turn the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage into a properly registered trust,” Siddle says.

She says they need about 650,000 US Dollars to transform the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust into the largest haven for primates.

So far materials worth about 300,000 US Dollars have already been bought; with the help of financiers from South Africa, the United States and Europe for the extension of electrified enclosures, wall fencing and a viewing platform for visitors who will be able to see the chimpanzees going about their daily lives in a semi-wild atmosphere.

Lodges to accommodate tourists will also be built. Presently the ranch provides only a camping site on the banks of the Kafue River for picnics.

There will also be an education center to offer information to visitors on the chimpanzees and other game animals which will be stocked in parts of the ranch.

If the project succeeds, the chimpanzee sanctuary will help put Zambia on Africa’s tourism map. For now, tourism is the third highest earner of foreign currency in Zambia after copper and agricultural exports.

In 1995, 163,000 tourists visited Zambia, bringing 46.7 million US Dollars. In 1996, the number almost doubled to 263,986, raising income from tourism to 59.8 million US Dollars. Last year, receipts from the industry increased to 75.5 million US Dollars from 340,896 tourists who picked on Zambia as a holiday destination.

At the moment most tourists visiting Zambia go for walking safaris, in the heartland of the wilderness; game drives through rich wildlife sanctuaries, bird watching, river cruises on the Zambezi River, angling, white water rafting on rapids, and canoeing past herds of hippopotamus, crocodiles on river sand and feeding birds.

All this is packaged at various lodges scattered in 19 national game parks, which include the Kafue National Park; North and South Luangwa and the Lower Zambezi game sanctuaries.

Located about 65 kilometers west of the copper and cobalt- mining town of Chingola, and 476 kilometers Northwest of Lusaka, Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage was never meant to be a chimpanzee colony.

Apart from the chimpanzees, the sanctuary is also providing shelter to three endangered African Grey parrots and ‘Billy-Jean’ the six-year old, almost two-tonne, hippopotamus. The survival and multiplication of the chimpanzees at the Siddle Ranch is most significant for Zambia, as in the past such efforts, at resource conservation, have always ended in failure.

One case in point is the Munda-Wanga botanic gardens on the outskirts of Lusaka which at one point had boasted of tigers, lions, camels, zebras and lots of other indigenous wildlife, but is now threatened with collapse.

Given rife wildlife poaching in Zambia, measures are underway to make sure the chimpanzees do not add on to figures of poached animals. Between 1995 and 1996 the National Parks and Wildlife department confiscated nearly 500 modern weapons, similar to the ones used by the army, and more than 2,000 old rifles from poachers.

In addition, 3,000 wire snares, 1,635 elephant tusks and 174 assorted animal skins were also seized. In 1996, 317 poachers out of a total 1,213 arrested were convicted and imprisoned.

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