Jane Goodall lauds Edmonton-area man for chimp rescue

World famous primatologist Jane Goodall praises Edmonton-area man who freed a young chimp from an Iraqi zoo this week, relocating him to the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Kenya.

‘It’s like chimp heaven,’ says Spencer Sekyer, who relocated Manno from an Iraqi zoo to a sanctuary in Kenya

Spencer Sekyer reunited with Manno on Monday, and took him to his new home at a sanctuary in Kenya.

World famous primatologist Jane Goodall had already heard about the plight of a young chimpanzee stuck in an Iraqi zoo when she met a Canadian man intent on freeing him at an event in Edmonton.

Now, over a year later, she is overjoyed by the news that Spencer Sekyer, a high school teacher from Sherwood Park, Alta. — and his allies across the globe — have freed Manno from zoo captivity, relocating him to a sanctuary in Kenya this week.

Goodall and her staff helped secure a new home for Manno at the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary near Nanyuki in central Kenya.

"I'm very happy this little chimp is going there," said Goodall in a telephone interview with CBC News. "Iraq is a difficult place so I'm really thrilled that they've succeeded in getting permission and permits and he's (Manno) going to Sweetwaters where he will certainly be taken very, very good care of."

Jane Goodall kisses a female chimpanzee at the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary, Manno's new home. (Jean-Marc Bouju/Associated Press)

On Wednesday, an SUV containing a crate with Manno inside rolled up to Sweetwaters.

The sanctuary is part of the Ol Pejeta Conservancy that boasts 90,000 acres of savannah grassland, home to rhino, elephants and other endangered species.

"It's perfect," said Sekyer, who reunited with Manno at the Duhok Zoo in Iraqi, Kurdistan on Monday, and travelled with the four-year-old ape to the sanctuary. "It's like chimp heaven."

'Chimp heaven': Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary (Daniel Stiles)

It's been three years since Sekyer set out to free Manno, after caring for him over Christmas holidays during a visit to the Duhok Zoo.

Sekyer said Manno was generally well-cared for but needed to be in his natural habitat rather than a small cage. And he worried it wouldn't end well for Manno or his handlers as the infant chimp grew older, stronger and more dangerous.

'We finally did it'

Accomplishing the goal required endless negotiations, mounds of paperwork, even a decree from the Kurdish prime minister — all with the threat of the Islamic State in Mosul just 80 km from the zoo.

It also involved Goodall and staff at the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada and some other locations, plus volunteer efforts by Duhok veterinarian Dr. Suleiman Tameer with the Kurdistan Organization for Animal Rights Protection, the wildlife rescue group Animals Lebanon and Daniel Stiles, project manager for the Project to End Great Ape Slavery.

"We finally did it, we finally got Manno out of there," said Stiles, who met Sekyer and Manno at the Nairobi airport when they arrived.
After two days of travel Manno arrived in Kenya on Wednesday. (Daniel Stiles)

When the crate was briefly opened, Manno peered out through the mesh screen.

"He was so cute," said Stiles. "He was just this beautiful chimpanzee. He looked very healthy. He looked very alert, he looked very curious. He was looking around like: 'What are all these people doing looking at me.'"

Curious about fellow chimps

Government veterinarians sealed up Manno's crate, whisking him off for quarantine at the sanctuary.

Abiding by Kenya Wildlife Service regulations, Manno was placed in a large enclosure, where he will be observed and tested to rule out herpes, tuberculosis and other diseases.

"He has not shown any signs of stress," said in-house veterinarian Dr. Stephen Ngulu. "He is feeding pretty well on bananas, watermelon, carrots, milk, oranges and avocado. He has hammocks and ropes in his rooms and is using them very well."

While transitioning to the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Kenya, Manno is being held in quarantine. 0:22

In video taken by quarantine staff, the last footage allowed until he is released, a solitary Manno is seen snacking on leaves and swinging from the ceiling. But his future family is close by.

"Apparently he can hear the chimps from outside so he's really curious, and that's really positive as well," said Sekyer. "Because he's never heard chimps before."

Sekyer described the sprawling forest where Manno will eventually be released as an "incredible" new home. He soon spotted two chimps, likely to become part of Manno's new family, lounging on a riverbank.

We're not going to give up…until he is accepted.- Daniel Stiles, Project to End Great Ape Slavery

"Hopefully he gets integrated into his troop," said Sekyer "With all hopes he'll never get moved again. This is going to be his life."
The sanctuary where Manno will live once his quarantine is over. 0:14

While quarantine could last up to four months, Stiles hopes it ends much sooner.

Tighter controls were implemented following the most recent Ebola outbreaks in western Africa, he noted.

But Stiles worries about the psychological toll "solitary confinement" could take on an infant ape who is used to being hugged and played with.

"If they allow that to continue too long, that could really affect his future," said Stiles.

Culture shock

Already, Manno is undergoing major adjustments, starting with his diet.

Fresh fruit and vegetables have replaced soda pop and junk food, which could even lead to sugar withdrawal, said Stiles.

"He's really going to have culture shock," said Stiles, adding though that Manno now has the opportunity to do something he's never done. "He'll be like a normal chimp."
Daniel Stiles, here with another chimp, hopes Manno's quarantine will end quickly. (Provided)

He'll be able to do chimp things like chasing other chimps through the bush, making friends with them, getting into fights, and when he's older having "a bit of fun with the ladies," said Stiles.

But the most important first step is getting him adopted by one of the powerful, intelligent females in the group.

"They interact, they groom each other," explained Stiles. "The female will just spend a lot of time and basically take Manno under her wing and protect him from any aggression, from the other chimpanzees."

And if he's not accepted?

"We're not going to give up … until he is accepted."

Chimp abductions common

Goodall said more and more baby chimps are abducted from their families in the wild for the entertainment business in Asia and the Middle East. And even though rescues like Manno's happen often, they don't always work.
Manno, 4, began his new life at Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary on Wednesday. (Spencer Sekyer)

"So it's very happy for Manno that this time it has worked," said Goodall.

She said ending the captivity of apes is challenging because demand for them is still strong in some countries. Goodall described the terror and suffering as chimp families are shot or left for dead, their babies abducted and "utterly traumatized."

Goodall said people can help by protesting the use of chimps in circuses, zoos and movies, or becoming a guardian to a rescued chimp, to help cover their costs.

And to Sekyer she offered a "big thank you."

"He's made the right decision and it will work out alright in the end."

@andreahuncar                    andrea.huncar@cbc.ca

About the Author

Andrea Huncar

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Andrea Huncar is based in Edmonton. She reports on human rights, immigrant and Indigenous communities, policing, courts and radicalization. Contact her in confidence at andrea.huncar@cbc.ca