Three orphaned chimpanzees are being held in a harrowing scene for a six-figure ransom following their abduction from a sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
A video of the animals in a bare brick room has been sent to the Lubumbashi sanctuary showing a chimpanzee, Monga, with his hands tied above his head as the other two terrified animals, Hussein and Cesar, try to break free from their kidnappers.
“You can see how terrified they are,” Franck Chantereau, the founder of the sanctuary, the JACK Primate Rehabilitation Centre, told The Times of London.
Chantereau said in a tweet that the kidnappers also threatened his wife’s life and to kidnap his children.
“We need your prayers“, he tweeted in French.
The kidnappers, who snatched the chimpanzees earlier this month, have threatened to kill the animals, aged 2 to 5, and send their heads to the center if their demands for the unspecified amount of money are not met. satisfied.
Chantereau has vowed not to pay the ransom because he believes it would only encourage more kidnappings, but the center is working with law enforcement to locate the kidnappers and rescue the chimps.
Chantereau is pessimistic about seeing the chimpanzees again because they are worth around $11,000 each on the black market.
“It’s a nightmare…it was such a disaster,” Chantereau told online environmental publication Mongabay. “We have faced many challenges for … years now. But we have never experienced anything like it: the kidnapping of monkeys.
The abducted chimpanzees had been orphaned by illegal wildlife trafficking, according to Chantereau, which involves the killing of families of baby chimpanzees. The most recently rescued chimpanzee, 2-year-old Cesar, was at the center just weeks before being taken away.
“They had all had a second chance, but now this new horror,” Chantereau told The Times. Since founding the sanctuary 16 years ago, he said the illegal wildlife trade has “turned into a war” and the 100 or so endangered monkeys at his facility are now in armed custody.
Adams Cassinga, director of ConservCongo, a Congolese nonprofit that investigates and helps prosecute wildlife crimes, says the incident is a worrying sign that wildlife traffickers are getting bolder in the absence effective law enforcement.
“This is the first time I’ve heard of people literally kidnapping animals so they can ask for money,” he said.
Chimpanzees, man’s closest relatives, are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.
An estimated one million chimpanzees roamed the forests of West and Central Africa in the early 1900s. Today, their numbers are down to just 150,000. The largest population, around 115,000, is in the DRC, in Cameroon and Gabon.
The biggest threats to the chimpanzee are habitat loss, poaching and disease. They are captured and sold as pets and are killed for their meat.