Chimps Safe in Uganda...for Now

A sanctuary should be a haven from the cruelty of the world for the remainder of each resident's life.Ngamba Island is a sanctuary for orphaned chimpanzees on Lake Victoria in Uganda. Many of its residents had been forcibly taken as infants from their forest home and their families to be sold into the exotic pet and bushmeat trades. The rescued chimpanzees thankfully now are protected in the sanctuary, enjoying a 100-acre rainforest, living together in large, closely-bonded social groups. They are free to roam around the large island.

In January of this year, Uganda's New Vision newspaper revealed that the Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Industry planned to export three of the chimpanzees to Changsha Zoo in China. The Ugandan Wildlife Authority inexplicably endorsed this misguided plan and a committee was established to arrange the transfer.

Recent photographs of Changsha Zoo, taken by the Asian Animal Protection Network, reveal deplorable conditions for the animals currently there: black bears standing on broken concrete and brick; a solitary lion snarling from within his barren steel cage; rusting bars of a primate cage. The zoo has a dolphinarium and even a circus, which uses macaques riding bicycles and baby moon bears "boxing." Changsha Zoo already has two chimpanzees who are kept in separate 6' x 4' concrete enclosures-a stark contrast indeed from Ngamba Island.

Although as a condition of the transport the Ugandan Wildlife Authority has pledged not to allow the chimpanzees to be used for entertainment, there appears to be little in the deal to ensure the most basic environmental enrichment for these poor animals. They would suffer the trauma of being removed from their social group in Uganda, and be forced to integrate into a new, small, barren surrounding in the zoo.

However, the New Vision has since reported that the High Court of Uganda has temporarily suspended the export of the chimpanzees, pending a main court hearing later this year by environmental lawyers!

The potential shipment of these chimpanzees as "diplomatic gifts" would surely damage Uganda's growing reputation as a wildlife conservation leader in Africa. Further, it would threaten Uganda's growing status as a prime ecotourism destination; depriving local residents of income from foreign visitors, and preventing these tourists from soaking in the country's naturally resplendent environment.