Sometimes in life you just need a hug. That was definitely the case for Kailo, a rescued baby chimpanzee when he arrived at the Lwiro Primates Rehabilitation Center in the Democratic Republic of Congo on March 3.
Footage shared by Lwiro Primates on Facebook shows the young chimp running out of his transport box and into his rescuer’s arms.
“He really needed to feel the safety and protection,” Itsaso Vélez del Burgo Guinea, technical director at the Lwiro Primates Rehabilitation Center and the woman in the video, told Newsweek. “Without knowing me, he just jumped on my arm hoping I will take care of him.”
Kailo, who is a year and a half to 2-years-old, was rescued from traffickers after poachers killed his mother.
Stills from the footage of Kailo arriving at the Lwiro Primates Rehabilitation Center and running to hug Itsaso Vélez del Burgo Guinea. Lwiro Primates / @lwiro_primates/Facebook
“In order to get a baby primate, poachers need to kill their mothers, as they will protect their babies to the death,” Lwiro Primates said in the Facebook post.
This places enormous psychological strain on young chimpanzees.
“Baby chimps are like humans, they need their mum’s protection,” del Burgo explained. “Babies are not weaned until they are about five years old and remain close to their mothers for [at least] the first decade of their lives.”
Although chimpanzees and other great apes are protected by domestic and international laws, del Burgo said that thousands are still lost from the wild every year.
“Trafficking of great apes is a highly profitable business,” she said. “Experts conservatively estimate at least 3,000 great apes are lost to trafficking each year, with about two thirds of these being chimpanzees. Tragically, true numbers are probably far higher.”
Trafficking is not the only threat chimpanzees face, illegal hunting and habitat destruction having severely depleted populations around the world. As a result, chimpanzees are now listed as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
“These threats have decimated the wild chimpanzee population, which fell from a million animals at the turn of the century to between 172,000 to 300,000 today,” del Burgo said.
A stock photo shows a mother chimpanzee with her baby. In the wild, chimpanzees are not weened until about 5-years-old and will stay with their mothers for at least a decade. JeannetteKatzir/Getty
The Lwiro sanctuary is home to 118 rescued chimpanzees, all of whom were victims of poaching and the pet trade.
“When they are stolen from their families and forests to be sold, they are treated with cruelty and endure tremendous suffering. so when they arrive to us they are frequently traumatized, sick and disabled,” del Burgo said.
When Kailo arrived at the sanctuary, he was trembling.
“Slowly he gained trust and he even start playing and laughing, which it is not usual for newcomers,” del Burgo said.
In a video posted on March 5, Kailo can be seen happily eating a passion fruit, which the sanctuary said is his favorite food.
“Kailo needs to feel safe and secure,” del Burgo said. “For that he has a surrogate mum 24/7. He is also receiving vet care as he arrived with parasites and a blood infection. He needs to recover physically and psychologically.”
Once his quarantine period is over, Kailo will be slowly integrated with the other chimpanzees at the sanctuary.
“This is when the real rehabilitation starts, as there is not better company for a chimpanzee than another chimpanzee,” del Burgo said. “Slowly he will depend less and less on human care, and he will live a full life surrounded by other chimps.”