Great apes practice peace under fire

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 1997:

YAOUNDE, Cameroon––Seizing an infant
gorilla, hunter Ntsama Ondo returned home to Olamze village
triumphant in mid-October, certain he’d make his fortune
just as soon as he could sell her to international traffickers––apparently
regular visitors to Olamze, situated near the
border of Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea.
Her troop had another idea, the October 22 edition
of the Cameroonian newspaper L’Action reported .
Apparently following his trail, an estimated 60 gorillas
marched into Olamze single file just before midnight, ignoring
gunfire meant to scare them away as they paraded in
silent protest.
When that didn’t get the infant back, the gorillas
returned the next night. This time they battered the doors
and windows of the houses until the Olamze village chief
ordered Ondo to release the infant.
“Immediately the assailants returned to the forest
with shouts of joy, savouring their victory,” L’Action said.

Of note is that the gorillas actually hurt no one.
Neither, apparently, did any human but Ondo hurt a gorilla.
Few recent conflicts in that strife-torn part of the
world have ended as peaceably. Nearly one million
Rwandans, Borundians, and Zaireans have been massacred
since civil strife broke out in April 1994 among Tutsi and
Hutu in Rwanda, spilled over the borders with fleeing
refugees and guerillas, and rekindled during the overthrow
this year of the weak remnant government left in Zaire by
the 1993 ouster of longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.
Soon after seizing authority and restoring the
national name to The Congo, as it was before Mobutu, new
ruler Laurent Kabila reopened Virunga National Park to
tourists at $120 apiece. Taking in $15,000 in the next three
weeks, Kabila promised to restore the integrity of the park,
home to an estimated 350 of the 610 mountain gorillas left in
the wild. Eighteen Virunga gorillas are known to have been
poached or killed accidentally during the fighting, including
the silverback Kabirizi, once familiar to tourists, and three
other members of his troop, who were caught in a May 18
crossfire between Kabila’s army and Rwandan insurgents.
The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and International
Gorilla Conservation Program welcomed Kabila’s words,
but––awaiting action––issued no specific praise.
Occupying 3,200 square miles of volcanic mountains
at the junction of The Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda,
Virunga was plundered by officials of the Mobutu regime for
29 years. Although Mobutu was a prominent member of the
1001 Club, a fundraising arm of the World Wildlife Fund,
the International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimated
that just $8,500 of the park’s $140,000 monthly earnings
during his reign went back into upkeep. The rest disappeared,
apparently into the pockets of Mobutu supporters
and possibly Mobutu himself, who also reputedly took a cut
of the profits from poachers who slew an estimated 84,000
elephants during his rule.
Most of the remainder of the surviving wild mountain
gorilla population occupy the Bwindi Impenetrable

Forest of Uganda, where conditions may be as
bad. The Kampala-based newspaper N e w
V i s i o n reported on October 31 that according
to Ugandan Wildlife Authority acting deputy
director for field operations Arthur Mugisha,
poachers and loggers are devastating supposedly
protected habitat. One warden at the
Kigezi Wildlife Reserve in western Uganda
reportedly poached 70 antelope and 50 buffalo.
He was caught and suspended, New Vision
said, because farmers complained his kills
were usurping the meat market.
As many as 750,000 refugees,
rebels, and soldiers have moved through the
Virunga region since 1994. About 700,000
were longtime residents of five camps on the
Virunga fringes. Delegates to the “Parks for
Peace” conference convened in Somerset,
England, in September 1997 by the IUCN and
the Peace Parks Foundation of South Africa
were told that even though the Virunga guards
were far outnumbered and outgunned,
seizures of snares rose from 913 in 1994 to
2,795 in 1995, and seizures of machetes rose
from 1,500 to 4,078; more than 100 square
miles of forest were razed; and more than half
the bamboo on Mount Mikeno, a staple food
of gorillas in a key habitat, was destroyed.
Rangers were reportedly killed in
Volcanoes National Park, the Rwandan fragment
of gorilla habitat. The Karisoke research
center established by the late Dian Fossey was
ransacked and virtually destroyed.
A ranger lost a leg to a landmine in
the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park of
Uganda. But ironically, the heavy use of
mines by the warring factions may have helped
protect gorillas, through cutting off roads, a
deterrent to illegal logging.
Elsewhere in interior Africa, especially
The Congo, wild primates including
chimpanzees and the more common western
lowland gorillas are increasingly imperiled by
logging, which is destroying their habitat, and
meat hunting, often undertaken to feed loggers.
As Kenyan photographer Karl Amman
reported in the March 1996 edition of A N IMAL
PEOPLE, chimp and monkey meat,
live infant chimps, and artifacts made from
chimp and gorilla remains are openly traded in
at least nine interior African nations.
Officially, there are still more than
10,000 western lowland gorillas left in the
wild, along with 10,000 bonobos (formerly
called pygmy chimps), and as many as
250,000 chimpanzees, of three different subspecies,
distributed among 10 nations.
If their habitat was undisturbed, the
numbers are sufficient that none would be
imperiled, as a species––but between logging
and warfare, gorillas and bonobos in particular
are right in harm’s way.
Captive wildlife caught in the war
zone had little chance. In the western Congo,
whole collections starved at the Lubumbashi
and Kisangani zoos. Built during Belgian rule
in 1932 and 1954, respectively, the zoos were
looted and neglected throughout the
Mobutu regime. Lubumbashi zoo
director Theophile Ngoy Muana
Bute temporarily saved some of
what he termed the most spectacular
animals by sending them to the
Kinshasa zoo, across the country––
but that region too was soon
involved in fighting, as Kabila took
over the Congolese seat of government,
while shooting broke out on
June 5 in Brazzaville, capital of the
neighboring Congo Republic,
between forces of president Pascal
Lissouba and rebels led by his predecessor,
Denis Sassou Nguessou.
Amos Courage of the
Howletts Zoo in Great Britain was in
Brazzaville working to rehabilitate
primates confiscated from poachers.
Evacuated on June 18 by the French air force,
Courage took several baby lowland gorillas
with him, but had to leave behind an almost
grown gorilla and a number of bonobos. Their
fate is unknown.
There were no silver linings either
for orangutans or anyone else caught in the
dark clouds of smoke rising from Sumatra,
Java, Irian Jaya, and Kalimantan, Indonesa,
where forest fires started deliberately in June
to clear brush and facilitate logging raged out
of control for a fifth straight month.
Rainforest loggers often wait for the
summer dry season, then torch brush in order
to gain access to the big trees, oust snakes and
other problematic wildlife, and enable the
women and children of a logging outfit to
gather charcoal while the men haul out the
timber. Usually the flames race through the
dry understory without either igniting perennially
moist groundcover or burning the standing
trees. August monsoons put the fires out.
This year, however, the El Nino
weather phenomenon apparently upset the
Indonesian rainfall pattern. The monsoons
never came––but typhoon winds did, spreading
the flames in early November, cutting off
access to food deliveries for at least 30,000
Irian Jayans who faced imminent famine, and
driving such thick smog into Jambi, Sumatra,
that an estimated 10,000 residents sufered respiratory
difficulty and a dozen died.
As the smog swirled on over
Malaysia, the Malaysian government banned
publication of comment on the effects from
anyone but government officials. Mostly, it
was suspected, this was to prevent recognition
that as Seth Mydans of The New York Times
put it, “the worst drought in 50 years coincides
with the worst economic crisis to hit the
region in many years,” each contributing to
the catastrophic effects of the other. With the
investment market collapsing, Mydans
explained, “Well-connected palm oil plantation
owners and pulp-and-paper companies in
Indonesia,” eager to earn hard currency,
“have continued clearing land by burning off
vast tracts of jungle, seemingly immune to
laws or punishment.” Meanwhile, due to tight
public funding, Mydans continued,
“Firefighting has been disorganized, and villagers
in some of Indonesia’s worst-hit areas
say they have received little or no help.”
Transportation was paralyzed, timber
futures were lost in many of the worst-hit
areas, tourism virtually ceased, and crops––
from food staples to illegally planted opium––
withered due to lack of sun and rain.
Orangutans were among the ultimate
victims. “Villagers, who are suffering from
hunger and serious respiratory ailments, are so
desperate that they are killing the orangutans
who are fleeing the forests and foraging in
their fields and gardens,” World Wildlife
Fund spokesperson Elizabeth Kempf told an
October 30 press conference in Geneva,
Switzerland. “As their suffering increases, so
does the villagers’ resentment of animals they
would not normally kill. Trees harboring
frightened animals are cut down. Then the
mother orangutans are hacked to death, and
the babies,” as one of the few still readily
saleable commodities in the afflicted region,
“are taken into captivity for sale into the illegal
wildlife and pet trade.”
Wrote London Daily Telegraph
Southeast Asian correspondent Alex Spillius,
“It is estimated that 1,000 of the apes have
either been killed or captured since the fires
This was more than eight times the
estimate offered by Willie Smits, chief of the
Wanariset Samboja conservatory in Borneo,
who figured that for each of the 60 baby
orangutans confiscated by Indonesian authorities,
at least one was murdered––but Smits’
figure included no guess at the number of
orangutans killed by fire and smoke, nor at the
extent of the undetected orangutan traffic.
Whatever the number, said Ed
Matthew of WWF, “This is an absolute catastrophe
for orangutan conservation. The population
was already in decline, and this is the
last thing it needed.”
As many as 20,000 to 30,000 orangutans
remained in the wild, according to shaky
official estimates, before the fires began.
Despite the threats to habitat and to
unlucky individuals, wild great apes still far
outnumber their captive kin. Yet if present
trends continue, that may not be true ten years
from now.
As in the wild, chimps are by far the
most plentiful great ape species in captivity,
with several thousand in the U.S. alone, divided
between the biomedical research and zoo
communities. The research colonies, however,
mostly controlled by Frederick Coulston of
the Coulston Foundation, are considered a virtual
loss to conservation. Many of the chimps
are incapable of either breeding or raising
young, a consequence of longtime social
deprivation. Some are sterile. Some are
inbred. Of the dwindling wild-caught cohort,
little is known about where most came from;
subspecies identifications could perhaps be
accomplished by DNA testing, but little such
testing has been done. Captive-born research
colony chimps are often hybrids of separate
chimp subspecies.
Rarely used in research, orangutans,
gibbons, bonobos and mountain gorillas are
all relatively scarce in captivity––bonobos and
mountain gorillas so scarce, in fact, that few
U.S. facilities have any, for any purpose.
Western lowland gorillas, rarely
used in research, are thus far the major success
story involving great apes in captivity.
The original handful of western lowland gorillas
brought out of Africa have bred up to a
Species Survival Plan roster of about 350, distributed
among 50 accredited U.S. zoos.
Another 300 western lowland gorillas occupy
European zoos, and Australian zoos have a

few dozen more.
In contrast to the young and healthy
U.S. population, however, most of the foreign
western lowland gorillas are aging remnants
of the “bring ‘em back alive” era.
Among the European group are just 34 potential
breeding females––and of the 17 infants
they birthed in 1996, only 11 survived. The
Belfast Zoo in Northern Ireland had one of the
more successful European colonies but in late
March an unidentified virus abruptly killed the
silverback, Keke, and a pregnant female,
Asali, leaving three survivors. Of those, one
named Kamili was pregnant.
This somewhat complicates introducing
another silverback to the troupe: some
captive silverbacks, unlike wild kin, abuse
youngsters. But most don’t. Frank of the
Lincoln Park Zoo, age 31, is an especially
good example. One of the smallest mature silverbacks
in captivity, Frank has fostered nine
young gorillas sired by other silverbacks, has
sired 12 offspring of his own, making him
one of the most prolific of all zoo breeders,
and seems fond of the young of other species
too, including humans.
Twenty-odd years ago, both western
lowland and mountain gorillas were considered
hard to breed. No gorillas were born
in captivity before 1958, and not many during
the next decade-plus. Both gorilla species
reproduce readily now, however, as zookeepers
have discovered the necessity of pairing
sexually experienced females with inexperienced
silverbacks, and of pairing males and
females of comparable age. An early erroneous
assumption was that sexually reluctant
older males would be more stimulated by
younger females. Instead, older gorilla males
seem to have generally strong inhibitions
against consorting with females they consider
to be babies––and their former sexual reluctance
with partners of similar age turns out to
be mainly a matter of many silverbacks having
been kept in isolation from puberty, or
even infancy in some cases, so that when
paired with equally inexperienced females of
any age, often neither has the social skills or
sexual appetite to initiate courtship.
Patty-Cake, 25, of the Bronx Zoo,
is reputedly the best teacher of awkward
young male silverbacks, having had seven
babies by four different partners, including
Timmy, a former Cleveland Metropark Zoo
silverback who had previously coupled successfully
only with one sterile female.
Patty-Cake is now paired with Dan,
24, who was born at the Kansas City Zoo,
but was raised by keepers rather than other
gorillas, spent several of his early years in
isolation at the original Marine World Africa
USA site in Redwood City, California, and
subsequently failed to mate successfully at the
Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City.
Keepers have reason to hope.
Isolated for the first 27 years of his life, the
Zoo Atlanta silverback Willie B., age 39,
became a father for the first time in 1994,
sired a second baby last year, and has impregnated
two more females who are due to give
birth next spring, Zoo Atlanta spokesperson
Carol Flammer announced in October.
Ivan, isolated for 28 years at a
Tacoma shopping mall, still has no offspring,
three years after arriving at Zoo Atlanta, but
at age 35 is reportedly showing signs of figuring
out what to do.
The Cincinnati Zoo, with 45 western
lowland gorilla births to date, is the zoo
world leader in gorilla fecundity, closely followed
by the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago,
which has had 43 western lowland gorilla
births. But even Cincinnati couldn’t get
Colossus to breed. The largest western lowland
gorilla in captivity, Colossus was captured
as an infant in 1968. He was kept alone
until The Zoo in Gulf Breeze, Florida,
acquired him in 1988. The Zoo sent him to
Cincinnati to live with six females in 1993,
but after four years of disinterest, he was to
return to Gulf Breeze this fall.
Gorilla experts fear King, age 28,
may also prove difficult to teach––if anyone
ever gets him out of Monkey Jungle, in South
Dade, Florida, where his home since 1979
has been a 40-foot-long concrete and steel
cell. Founded in 1933, Monkey Jungle may
be the last unaccredited zoo in the U.S. to
have a gorilla. King did have a female companion
once, while still not fully grown, but
she reputedly beat him up because his front
teeth had been removed. The Animal Rights
Foundation of Florida is campaigning to move
him to Zoo Atlanta. The International
Primate Protection League has already spotlighted
his situation several times.
Along with a better understanding
of gorilla sexuality––and of the importance of
family life to male as well as female gorillas––zookeepers
have developed a stronger
appreciation of their natural shyness. Most
gorillas do not like to be stared at, though the
Bronx Zoo colony is inclined to sit or squat in
rows and stare back at visitors.
The indoor/outdoor Bronx Zoo
gorilla habitat was twice considered the most
advanced of its time: in 1950, when it
opened as an early example of the tile-walled,
steel-barred “bathrooms” that zookeepers then
believed essential for sanitation, and in 1971,
when the harsh atmosphere was softened by
semi-natural landscaping. It is scheduled for
complete replacement, finally, in 1999,
when the gorillas will move to a new 6.5-acre
African Rain Forest exhibit also featuring
okapi, mandrills, pythons, and Congo peacocks.
Two separate gorilla families will live
outdoors except in the coldest weather.
The current Bronx Zoo gorilla habitat
was the model for the habitats at the
Lincoln Park Zoo and the Brookfield Zoo,
both of Chicago, as well as for facilities in St.
Louis, Houston, and elsewhere, but the current
standards are the gorilla habitats in
Atlanta and Dallas, where the design gives
humans a view without making their presence
obvious to the animals. The Disney Wild
Kingdom gorilla habitat to debut in May 1998
near Orlando, Florida, is expected to up the
ante once again. Five former Lincoln Park
Zoo gorillas will occupy 44,000 square
feet––more than seven times the size of the
Lincoln Park habitat, which they shared with
15 other gorillas.
Primarily Primates
Chimpanzees who might be retired
from research need a home, too, but while
the going price of a state-of-the-art gorilla
habitat is $30 million, the San Antonio sanctuary
Primarily Primates is struggling to raise
the $190,000 that founder Wally Swett and
partner Stephen Tello need to construct just a
basic New Chimpanzee Habitat for eight adult
chimps and two babies they have promised to
accept from the former Laboratory for
Experimental Medicine and Surgery in
Primates at New York University.
December deadline, they had raised barely
half of it––an accomplishment, on short
notice. Raising the rest by the end of
November, however, could have saved not
just the 10 chimps Swett and Tello expect to
add to the 500-animal Primarily Primates
menagerie, but the whole LEMSIP colony.
NYU president Jay Olivo shut
LEMSIP and forced founder/director Jan
Moor-Jankowski into retirement in 1995,
after Moor-Jankowski complained about primate
care at a drug addiction research lab formerly
run by fellow NYU researcher Ronald
Wood. Alleged multiple violations of the
Animal Welfare Act eventually brought NYU
and Wood the largest civil penalty ever levied
against a university by the USDA Animal and
Plant Health Insprection Service.
Claiming LEMSIP was dismantled
in retaliation, Moor-Jankowski filed a still
pending whistleblower lawsuit against NYU
and Olivo––who meanwhile threatened to
transfer all the LEMSIP chimps to The
Coulston Foundation, for further research use.
Working through former LEMSIP
second-in-command James Mahoney,
Primarily Primates in March 1996 obtained 12
LEMSIP chimps who had been temporarily
kept by the Buckshire Corporation. Building
facilities for them stretched the Primarily
Primates fundraising capacity.
Then, on October 30, Swett stated
in an appeal to other animal protection groups,
“I received a rather urgent telephone call from
Mahoney, who explained that all remaining
chimpanzees at LEMSIP must be gone by
November 31, 1997. There are currently 26
remaining chimps available for retirement. I
made a difficult decision. While Primarily
Primates has the space to accept all 26
chimps, we do not have the necessary financial
backing to construct proper housing for
all of them.”
Without a monetary miracle, saving
eight adults and two babies was the best Swett
and Tello could commit to do. ( A d d r e s s
Primarily Primates at POB 15306, San
Antonio, TX 78212-8506.)

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