Chimfunshi Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Orphanage was founded, not from a grand plan to save Africa’s chimps, but purely by chance and the kindness of one couple.
David and Sheila Siddle, who own a cattle ranch in the Zambian copperbelt, have always had a reputation for taking in and caring for sick and wounded animals. It was no surprise then that in 1983 a game ranger brought a badly wounded baby chimp to their cattle ranch. The Siddles nursed that chimp – nicknamed ‘Pal’ – back to health, and before they knew it they’d earned a reputation for caring for rescued chimpanzees. People from all over began bringing them abused and orphaned chimps and by 1988 they had 19 chimps in their care.
It is estimated that 5 million chimpanzees roamed through western and central Africa at the start of the 20th century, but hunting, poaching, and the destruction of natural habitats have pushed the species to the brink of extinction. Less than 200,000 chimpanzees are believed to exist in the wild today, making them an endangered species and in need of our help.
The Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage is currently a home to over 130 chimpanzees, making it one of the largest chimp sanctuaries in the world. The chimps live in four large enclosures that measure between 19 and 77 hectares each, with adjacent cages, which are used exclusively for daily feeding during which the chimpanzees’ health can be monitored, and medical examinations carried out when necessary. The great apes live in the forested enclosure day and night and only enter the cages during feeding sessions.
Some of the chimpanzees were born at Chimfunshi, while others have been rescued from adverse conditions all over the world. Many baby chimps are confiscated by customs in airports where they were being smuggled in very small boxes to sell as pets or research animals. Some of the rescued chimps were kept as attractions in bars or amusement parks, often chained up in small cages and abused. Many of them arrive at Chimfunshi traumatised and hungry and a few are even addicted to unhealthy and unnatural habits such as drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes. They need intensive and prolonged care. Since they have often lived alone and not in larger communities as chimpanzees usually do, they have to be carefully integrated into one of the chimpanzee families at Chimfunshi after being nursed back to health.
The Siddles and the Chimfunshi Trust have done fantastic work in the rescue and care of chimpanzees in Africa and we were extremely proud to have the opportunity to partner with them in late 2011 when we established a volunteer program at the sanctuary. This project allows volunteers from all over the world to play an active role in conservation of these great apes, and experience the magic of this incredible place. In 2012, the first volunteers joined the project and the following year the program won the GoAbroad award for Innovative New Volunteer Program. Since opening this project to volunteers we have had nothing but positive reviews.
We are incredibly proud of this project and want to encourage everyone with an interest in great apes, conservation or working with animals to join us in Africa and help support the good work at Chimfunshi.
Sheila Siddle, who published her biography and story of Chimfunshi – In My Family Tree – still resides at the original orphanage location and you will get to meet Sheila at least once and hear all about her fascinating stories of how she first arrived in Africa as a child (overland from the UK) and how the chimpanzee sanctuary was founded at Chimfunshi.