Chimpanzees of Gabon (Part III): Next Steps
Los Angeles Zoo Senior Animal Keeper Candace Sclimenti set off to Africa for four weeks, beginning in January 2016, to consult with staff at the International Center for Medical Research in Franceville, Gabon (CIRMF). The lab at this facility phased out its medical research work with chimpanzees 15 years ago, leaving some 40-plus resident chimps in need of a new home and life. With no sanctuary in place to send them, the primates, who are by nature a social species, have lived and been cared for at the Gabon facility pending their relocation. Sclimenti traveled more than 8,000 miles to lend her expertise and experience in the process of introducing these chimps to their new, large social groups, before they are moved to sanctuaries on island habitats in Gabon. A primatologist, steering committee member for the Chimpanzee Species Survival Plan, and long-time collaborator of the Jane Goodall Institute, Sclimenti often consults on chimpanzee behavior, specific to socialization and integration, making her an expert contributor for this project. This is her story from the field.
Week three has been a little more slowly paced than the first two weeks. After many introductions and groupings, this week was spent in reflection and planning.
We’ve been closely monitoring our newly created groups to ensure that they are solidifying and not breaking down. Also, much of this week was spent in meetings, discussing next steps and consulting on the work that needs to continue once we leave. In order to create the final large group (23 chimpanzees), there are some modifications that need to be made to the holding building. A transfer chute needs to be built to connect two areas of the building. This work will take time and will not be completed while we are here. I am confident that after our many discussions with the project manager and keeper staff, the team will be able to make the modifications and successfully build on what we have started. The good news is that the chimpanzees we’ve been working with are doing well and the groups are stable.
This week also brought a nice outing to the Parc de la Lékédi in Bakoumba. Roughly a two-hour drive from the Centre, the Parc, in addition to the natural wildlife, has small gorilla and chimpanzee sanctuaries and a Nile tilapia fishery. We spent the day exploring the Parc and visiting with the chimpanzees and gorillas. In the afternoon, we trekked through pristine, primary forest in an attempt to follow a group of mandrill monkeys, but they were too speedy for us. The hike was beautiful and enjoyable, and even though we didn’t see the wild mandrills, the trek was still worth it.
Additionally, I began working with Aboume, a diabetic chimpanzee, training him to allow a needle prick for voluntary blood collection. Aboume receives a daily insulin injection, but they currently have no way to monitor his diabetes without anesthetizing him. The needle prick (to a toe or finger) will get enough blood to test via a glucometer. Aboume is very friendly and loves attention, so the training sessions have been going well.
Next week, we have two more small introductions to complete, and then we will be finished with what we can do without the building modifications. I can’t believe our time in Franceville is coming to an end. This month has flown by. I hope to be able to return when the chimpanzees are released onto the islands. That will be a glorious day.
Au revoir for now,
All photos, courtesy of L.A. Zoo Senior Animal Keeper Candace Sclimenti
Read more on Candace Sclimenti’s work in Gabon: