The African rainforest has its own symphony. The soft patter of a rain shower on the canopy. The quiet slipper of a mother gorilla and her baby settling down in a nest of leaves for a rest. The warm squawk of parrots gathering overhead. This harmony is shattered in an instant when shot gun blasts pierce the air. Today I want to share the story of one beautiful soul who survived that experience and who has found incredible joy in the arms of her rescuers.
She is One of the Lucky Ones
Billy was an orphan living in Cameroon and her chances of rescue were about one in a million. An Elliot’s chimp, the most rare subspecies, Billy was living in a backyard with a man who had been keeping her as a pet since the time her mother was taken from her. Each yea,r millions of animals like Billy are violently taken from their forest homes for sale as meat, as pets or as trophies. Though gorillas are less resilient and tend to die quickly, chimpanzees are more likely to survive for many years in captivity, even in the worst of circumstances. The odds of rescue are next to none, but for Billy, ironically a brush with death was about to save her life.
“Billy was being kept with a dog who was her only friend and fiercely protected her from anyone getting close to her,” Ainare Idoiaga of the Limbe Wildlife Centre explains. “But such love also had consequences. She contracted a bad strain of parvo virus from the dog and was suffering profuse blood loss through diarhea. Her owner was scared of the condition of the chimp, and thinking that his children may get infected, wanted to get rid of her.”
Within just 24 hours, the team from Limbe Wildlife Centre was on site to take Billy away. She was fading fast but it was not too late to save her. They tried to persuade the man to also release custody of his dog, but he refused and there are no laws here to protect pets. So they took their time talking to the man about the need for veterinary care for his dog and were forced to leave with only one rescue instead of two.
What Had Her Early Months Been Like?
Billy’s initial exam revealed so much about her first year in this world.
“When we did the first quarantine checking, we realized that apart from having all her body full of gunshot pellets (which we removed), her left jaw articulation was broken. To us, it looked like she had been kicked on her small face.”
The thing about the babies who come to Limbe is that they always find love here. With extreme tenderness and devotion, the staff here care for the babies round the clock. The human-animal bond is deepest in the earliest weeks when arriving animals must spend time in quarantine to avoid the potential for spreading disease.
Later, when they’ve been given a clean bill of health, the new arrivals eagerly join others of their species and that’s when the real family bonds begin to form. They hold each other, groom each other, call to one another and play like brothers and sisters. The older animals will oversee the youngest among them and older chimpanzees have been known to take the little ones to ‘bed’ with them at night.[caption id="attachment_321" align="alignright" width="150"] Feeling better, Billy can’t decide which delicious food to try first.[/caption]
At first Billy was terrifed of men and would only let the women hold her but slowly she started being confident with men. She impatiently awaited the end of her quarantine period when she could join the rest of the babies, Lolo, Mayos, Yabien and Gah, who vocalized for her every morning. And when the big day finally came, they immediately embraced one another.
This is a Place of Peace, a Haven for All
Here at Limbe, Billy has found peace and she’s not the only one. This incredible wildlife sanctuary and rehabilitation center helps thousands of animals to recover from trauma each year, and the majority of them are able to return to the wild. It’s a painstaking mission for apes, monkeys, birds, crocodiles and many more.
The days here are full of as many tears as hugs, but this haven is having a profound impact on the lives of so many and regularly reaching out to children in the surrounding area to teach them about the value of protecting wildlife. See more photos from the Limbe Wildlife Center or visit the Harmony Fund’s “baby shower” to make a donation to support their incredible work.