Home > Chimpanzees > Our program of reintroduction

The program of reintroduction of chimpanzees of the H.E.L.P. Project
In a few words
ø This program is carried out on the ground, in the Republic of Congo, by H.E.L.P. Congo. It began in 1996 and it concerned, at the beginning of 2006, 40 individuals, all born in the Republic of Congo. The very great majority of them spent several years in semi-freedom on one of the islands of the Sanctuary of Conkouati. All these A chimpanzee equiped a collar emettorchimpanzees were released on the site of the Triangle or near, within the National park of Conkouati-Douli. Their release was done by small groups, between 1996 and the beginning of 2006, after an important medical follow-up. Since their first day in the forest, these individuals were observed in order to study their adaptation to this new environment.
ø Not only the rate of survival is important, but the food behavior of the released individuals is completely comparable with the one of their congeneric savages. The contacts with wild chimpanzees are very numerous and already, several of the released females gave birth to young babies.

Thanks to those success, and rich of those experiment, the H.E.L.P. Project study the possibility of launching a new program of reintroduciton on another site. In addition, we propose our expertise with other projects in Africa, interested by the handing-over in natural environment of chimpanzees.

To reintroduce chimpanzees: difficult problems!
the reintroduction of chimpanzees must face problems common to any Re-introduction in natural environment, like:
      · need for respecting the individuals concerned, the medical aspects, the wild animal populations;
      · the appreciation of the interest of such an act for the species;
      · need for rigorous protocols of installation and follow-up;
      · the taking into account of the possible environmental impact....
ø The relations between chimpanzees can be really deapConcerning the chimpanzee
species, some specific difficulties are added: the chimpanzee is a species with a very complex social behavior. The capture of young individuals implies a serious psychological traumatism and the loss of the social reference marks. For this species, the training near the adults is long. The separation of the group of origin, in particular of the mother, thus redues strongly the capacity of living normally in forest. To try to meet the needs for the young orphans (affection, maternal contact, training) an important direct contact between primates and welfare source is necessary. This brings to a strong human impregnation of these animals, potential source of problems at the time of the reintroduction.
The introduction of new individuals in forest can encounter important difficulties related to the aggressiveness of the species. Indeed, it is regularly observed attacks of chimpanzees by the congeneric resulting ones from different communities, attacks being balanced regularly by sometimes serious wounds, even mortals.
The whole of these factors explains in great part why there is not former cases of truths programmes of reintroduction of chimpanzees in natural environment (see "Conservation of the species chimpanzee").

Preparation of the program of reintroduction
Since its design, this program took care of
the conditions to respect, such as they are defined by the Group of the Specialists in the Reintroductions of the UICN. H.E.L.P. Congo particularly held account of the need for an excellent preparation, of UN protocol to release rigorous, of an important follow-up after the release, at the veterinary level, behavioral and environmental impact.
From the very start, H.E.L.P. Congo worked in partnership with the actors of the conservation of the zone of Conkouati, like currently the WCS and the agents of National Forestry Commission, all in load of the management of the National park of Conkouati-Douli.
ø Three essential points in this preparatory phase: the phase of expertise, the signature of agreements with the Congolese government, preparation on the ground
The phase of expertises began in 1994 by a first mission from the primatologist Caroline Tutin, who came to estimate the feasibility of this project. Following its favourable opinion, the project was presented at the authorities and various agreements were signed.
In 1996, a second mission of C Tutin and a mission of the botanist P. Sita made it possible to define and study the site to release most favorable, namely the Triangle, zone of forest with approximately 1 hour 30 of boat of the sanctuary of Conkouati.
Always in 1996, the whole of the chimpanzees of the sanctuary were went through an important veterinary check, first phase of the medical follow-up of this program.
Lastly, it was to install Infrastructures necessary on the site of the Triangle: camp in forest, opening of tracks or tailboards marked out in forest for displacements and the location.

ø Pose of a collar emetor on a chimpanzee in the course of a realeaseFrom 1996 to 2001, 36 chimpanzees resulting from the Sanctuary were reintroduced in this program. Thirty five of them had been the subject of seizure or had been given by private individuals or Congolese zoos to H.EL.P. Congo. Only one was born in the Sanctuary and was released, less than one year old with his mother. These first 35 individuals were released after a rather long passage on the sanctuary of H.E.L.P. Congo, including a stay in nursery (of a few days to almost 3 years) and a stay on one of the islands of the Sanctuary of Conkouati (from 3 to 8 years). On these islands, the animals lived in semi-freedom, within socially structured groups and the contacts with the human ones were reduced to the contribution of additional food.
With the exception of the baby released with his mother, the individuals were reintroduced on the site of the Triangle from 6 to 15 years old. These reintroductions were made by small groups, from two to twelve individuals, one or two groups being released each year, from November 1996 in mid 2001.

ø From September 2000 at at the beginning of 2006, four individuals, including two at the beginning of 2006, were released on the Triangle after a stay limited on the sanctuary of Conkouati (but always after same medical control). Resulting also from seized or donation to H.E.L.P. Congo by private individuals, they were thus released at a youth age, one to two years old. They are released by two and are only integrated little by little in the groups of individuals previously released. This procedure proves less stressing for the individual: they discovers the forest in the site where they will live, they learns from the individuals previously slackened and they do not undergo the stress to leave their island and to arrive on an unknown site, after a transfer under general anaesthesia.

Medical follow-up
A particular importance was given by H.E.L.P Congo to the veterinary follow-up, with in particular an implication of the CIRMF (International Medical Research Center, Libreville - Gabon). The principal objective was to set up a procedure to limit to the maximum the medical risks for the wild animal populations present on the zone of reintroduction. To answer these requirements, H.E.L.P. Congo maintained uninterrupted the presence of a veterinary surgeon on his sites since 1992. Concretely, this important veterinary monitoring rests on:
    · the realization of clinical examinations, the care necessary and quarantainefor very newcomer
    · the realization of at least a complete medical assessment, under general anaesthesia generally, of all the individuals candidates for the reintroduction (clinical examination, analyses parasitic, serologic (hepatitises, HIV...), tuberculinisation and preventive treatment like the vermifugation and vaccination); these examents are done a second time at the time of slackening, with the installation of a collar transmitting and taken hairs for genetic typing
    · the follow-up by remote observations and coprologic analyses of the reintroduced animals
    · the stop of the treatments of prevention on the released animals, except at the moment of the arrival of new individuals within already slackened groups
    · the realization of veterinary acts if the survival of a slackened chimpanzee is directly concerned.

The follow-up of the slackened chimpanzees
ø the follow-up by observations and telemetry
Example of work of the follow-up of the chimpanzee In their new environment, the chimpanzees equipped with transmitting collars are the subject of a daily follow-up which becomes more spaced after several months. In 2006, this follow-up relates to primarily the males and the females with babies.
Thus, since December 1996, several thousands of hours of observations were carried out. These last, based on statements separated by 10 minutes, concern in particular: the food behavior (ex: consumed species), displacements and space exploitation of the site of reintroduction, social interactions, contacts with the wild populations...
The individuals are equipped the day of their release with transmitting collar of a range of approximately a kilometer and of a lifesime of one year. In the first times which follow their release, the chimpanzees are followed everyday, if possible from the nest to the nest. The collars then make it possible to locate them if they escape from such a follow-up, which is relatively current because of the conditions of ground. With time, this monitoring is done less intense: the collars are then essential to find the chimpanzees. The lifetime of these collars being from approximately 1 year, are re-equipped especially the leaders, the females with the youngest babies or the youngest ones. The individuals without collar are then observed in a more or less occasional way, randomly of the meetings in forest.
ø the genetic follow-up
Each chimpanzee concerned with our program was the subject of a genetic typing. To know their genetic print is essential for two imperative reasons:
    · the animals being less and less observed, the genetics offers to us a mean of indirect follow-up enabling us to certify in a formal way (up to 99 %), the presence of such or such individual at a given place and a given moment, starting from analyses of saddles taken in forest.
    · the number of birth among the females released is in permanent increase; thanks to the genetics we can define who is the father, in particular if it is a slackened individual or a wild chimpanzee. This is essential to understand the interactions with the wild populations of chimpanzees.

Results for the reintroduced chimpanzees
ø Rate of survival
On the 38 chimpanzees released between 1996 and 2002, 6 died, 4 females were lost just after their releasing by failure of their collar, 8 individuals were followed at least three months after their reintroduction but were not seen since more than one year, and 21 are observed from frequently to everyday. Among the 8 individuals not seen since more than one year, we count several females having disappeared from long periods in the past and reviews randomly of a meeting.
ø Interaction man-chimpanzee
The nature of the reactions of the chimpanzees slackened towards the man is one of the most positive elements of this program. After the period of escape according to the release, the chimpanzees generally show indifference to the man, even if the maintenance of a neutral attitude remains essential. More and more, they are shown even not easily accessible.
ø Body Condition
In a general way, no contribution of food is necessary. A nourrissage was sometimes essential for certain individuals for the period criticizes according to their slackening, when the stress had pushed them to flee in zones not very rich in food or for a chimpanzee convalescent. The principal causes of the interventions veterinary surgeons are wounds, sometimes very serious, following the wild attacks of chimpanzees.
Jeannette seeking larvae in rotted roots ø Food Behavior
The slackened individuals have a food adapted
behavior , rich and comparable with what is described for the wild populations and this in various plans like: techniques of collection and consumption of the food (use of tools...), the time devoted to the food (58 % of daily time), the predominance of the fruits in the food (more than 60 % of the time devoted to the food corresponds to the fruit consumption, especially of pulps), food variety in term of numbers of consumed different food (more than 200), and of numbers of exploited vegetable species (more than 135), the follow-up of the rhythms of fructifications, food exploitation known as of reserve (sheets, stems the herbaceous ones...) in the event of fall of availability out of fruits
ø General Behavior
Very quickly, the reintroduced chimpanzees showed a very marked exploratory behavior. To this date, they very have widely exceeded the framework of
Choupette and her firt baby born in 2001the Triangle and exploit the part contiguous to the Triangle of the National park of Conkouati-Douli. In addition, the behaviour of fusion-fission was observed very early after the first released. This social behavior was accentuated in 2000. It relates to the whole of the reintroduced individuals and varies according to the number of females in heat and the food availability, as within the wild communities.
ø Interactions with the wild chimpanzees
One of the interests of this program of reintroduction would be of in the long term being able to contribute to the reinforcement of the wild populations of chimpanzees. The contacts between wild and slackened chimpanzees are increasingly many and durable. In the large majority of the cases, the things are held as well as possible and the presence of observers seems to interfere less and less. In fact the males who are more and more the victims of the attacks of their wild congeneric, with serious wounds, having resulted in death. On the other hand, the females are more easily accepted, especially if they are in oestrus. They can then leave several months with them.
ø Reproductive Behavior
The very great majority of the females were pubescent and the males in age to reproduce at the time of their release. The first birth of a baby born of a slackened female took place in 2001. We count at the beginning of 2006 a total of 8 births.

The mandrills are also inhabitants of the Triangle Results for the site of reintroduction
ø No sign of overexploitation of the zone was observed. Moreover, the chimpanzees leaving the limits of the Triangle, this risk remains very limited.
ø the impacts of this program on the site of reintroduction relate to especially the protection of the zone of Conkouati. Indeed, on the forest unit exploited by the chimpanzees reintroduced here, deforestation stopped and especially the poaching underwent a drastic fall. This appears in particular by the increase in the contacts with wild fauna. Thus, for example, the observations of elephants became very frequent and those of cercopithèques almost dayly.

Results for the species chimpanzee
Results of the program of reintroduction of H.E.L.P. Congo on the level of the species are still not very quantifiable. But we can already note that:
    · this action became an essential reference for all future programs of this type; thus H.E.L.P. Congo took part in the drafting of the new recommendations of the group of specialists in reintroduction in the UICN. Our action makes it possible to consider new tools for the conservation of the species chimpanzee like the reintroduction, but also the translocation of individuals or wild populations.
    · this action contributes to the protection of a single forest belt for the survival of the species: the area of Conkouati
    · this action plays a considerable part of sensitizing on becoming to it primates, as well on the level of Congo as outwards thanks to an important effort of communication and diffusion of the results.

Lesson and future
ø the phase of the release program begun in 1996 is almost completed to date. On the other hand, the follow-up of the individuals, even if it becomes still increasingly discrete, will continue. It is in particular necessary to bring answers on the evolution of the social structure of the community of slackened, on their reproductive successes and their interactions in the environment and long term with the wild populations.
ø As of now, we can say that this program is a success, would be this only because one durable and acceptable solution was found for the future of about thirty ex-captive chimpanzees.
ø Today, the H.EL.P. Project study the feasibility of a new program of reintroduction, on another site that the Triangle. Moreover, we propose our expertise to help of other projects wishing to develop a program of reintroduction of chimpanzees. New adventures in prospect and perhaps a hope for other captive chimpanzees.

But our program also teaches that such actions are possible only by observing certain conditions and a rigorous protocol. And that cannot be applied to all the captive chimpanzees. Such actions can thus remain only tools. The essence of the solution for the survival of the species chimpanzee, as for the majority of the animal and vegetable species, always remains in the development of actions for the protection of the in situ populations and the durable management of their habitat. We will do our best there too!

© H.E.L.P. International - 2006 // last update 22/02/2007