After 16 Years in a Wooden Box, Smiling Chimp Races Through the Grass

by Laura Simpson

July 2013

hero-chimpsFor the first time in 16 years, Bazou plows through a sea of grass—with 36 chimpanzees trailing behind. He’s running fast because the freedom of movement is an astonishing sensation. Today is Bazou’s day to stand at the center of his new universe in an open field in Cameroon. He shouts at the sky as sunlight bathes his face and the warm, moist earth cushions his feet. There’s not a dry eye around as caregivers at the Limbe Wildlife Centre witness this critical moment in his recovery. Indeed Bazou is now safe and the ‘good life’ has brought on a priceless smile.

[caption id="attachment_944" align="alignnone" width="600"]The exact moment Bazou takes his first steps outside! The exact moment Bazou takes his first steps outside![/caption]

The exact moment Bazou takes his first steps outside! “Prior to his rescue, (starting around his third birthday) Bazou had been kept in a cage so small he hardly had space to move, a rope around his neck remaining from a chain that had been used when he was young,” explains Ainaire Iadago at the Limbe Wildlife Centre in Cameroon, which specialized in the rehabilitation of captive wildlife.

[caption id="attachment_946" align="alignright" width="370"]This is where Bazou had been living. This is where Bazou had been living.[/caption]

“Bazou spent 16 years in solitary confinement. Upon arrival he was in extremely poor condition, so thin that his bones were clearly visible and dehydrated.”

It would be a long period of recovery for Bazou, not so much from a physical standpoint, but because of the psychological journey he was beginning. Since Bazou was unable to express himself in the right way, unfamiliar with normal chimpanzee language that he would have learned through years of being part of a normal family unit, this would be his mountain to climb.

“This month, Bazou began his integration into his new family of 36 chimpanzees in one of the groups here,” Ainare said. “First, he met TKC, the dominant male of the island group. This was an important first step as TKC’s acceptance of Bazou would impact the behavior of the rest of the group. This introduction went extremely well, which is quite rare for adult male chimpanzees. TKC quickly became a source of protection for Bazou, and after the two had spent some days together, they remained together while Bazou met more members of his new family. He earned the protection of most of the dominant members of the group.”

[caption id="attachment_948" align="alignnone" width="600"]Bazou and TKC together in the grass, an incredible scene of mercy and compassion Bazou and TKC together in the grass, an incredible scene of mercy and compassion[/caption]

“Although he had a bit of difficulty with some of the rowdy male juveniles who left him with some small wounds, Bazou had a permanent smile on his face. Somehow the rest of the group members understand Bazou is special and they accept his lack of knowledge in chimpanzee language.”

[caption id="attachment_949" align="alignright" width="300"]Ilor hugs Bazou who is hollering in an expression of joy that sounds like distress in typical chimpanzee language. Ilor hugs Bazou who is hollering in an expression of joy that sounds like distress in typical chimpanzee language.[/caption]

It’s actually quite remarkable that misunderstandings in the language have not prompted any crises, as Bazou will often express joy with distress vocalizations. This might normally trigger aggression in another, but in this case, the others respond instead by trying to comfort him.

“He now spends his day playing with the younger individuals, grooming with the dominants, running through the grass and relaxing in the chimpanzee pool,” Ainare continues. “He loves staying under the main tree and just staring at others with a smile on his face. Again he has a family to protect and to be protected by.”

[caption id="attachment_950" align="alignnone" width="600"]Sharing food with Tobi and Nanga. Sharing food with Tobi and Nanga.[/caption]

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