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The chimps of the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary

The chimps' enclosure is split in two by the 
river. The two groups of chimps often throw 
sticks and insults and insults at each other
across the river. Credit Wildlife Extra
This is not just a large cage holding a few chimps, but a 250 acre purpose built enclosure, split into several parts and divided in 2 by a river, where the chimps can live out the rest of their days in almost natural conditions (In fact there are no wild chimps in Kenya, and Ol Pejeta would normally be a little too dry for chimps to live here.)

The chimps have all been rescued from ‘inappropriate' care, ranging from people trying to look after orphaned chimps who could not cope with their strength and size, to downright disgraceful instances where chimps had been chained up or locked in a cage not even small enough for them to lie down.

When the chimps first arrive here they are placed in a holding pen for a few weeks to allow them to acclimatise to the local conditions, and, more importantly, to allow the carers to ascertain which of the groups the new chimps should be placed in. The chimps have now been sterilized as, if allowed to breed naturally, their numbers would quickly outgrow the capacity of the sanctuary. A few babies were born, and even now occasionally very young chimps are added to the groups, who have always taken them in as a family member.  

The chimps behave almost exactly as they would
in the wild, with extensive grooming.

 The chimps

Thankfully, the days of the chimps' tea party at the zoo are over, but, with a twinge of guilt, I could see how they appealed to the audiences of their day. Chimps, our nearest cousins, are incredibly endearing, and they do provide plenty of entertainment for any watchers, especially the younger chimps and the way the older animals put up with their young boisterous companions.

9 years solitary confinement

But the viewing gallery contains a brief biography of many of the chimps here, and almost all are harrowing stories. Of all the sad tales, that of Poco is probably the most shocking. Poco spent the first 9 years of his life in a cage suspended above a small workshop in an attempt to attract potential customers. The cage was so small that Poco was only able to sit or stand on two legs, which is completely unnatural for a chimpanzee. As a consequence, Poco to this day stands on two legs much of the time especially, when showing off to visitors. However, since settling in at Sweetwaters, Poco has been a model guest and is now one of the more gentle chimpanzees. 

Looking into the sanctuary from the viewing 
gives an idea of the size. The fence is designed 
to keep predators out as much as to keep the 
chimps in.

The Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary was opened in 1993 after an agreement between the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and the Jane Goodall Institute. The sanctuary was established to receive and provide refuge to orphaned and abused chimpanzees from west and central Africa. An initial group of three chimpanzee orphans were brought to Sweetwaters from Bujumbura, Burundi in 1993. This was followed in 1995 by another group of 9 adult chimpanzees, followed by another 10 in 1996. Sweetwaters is currently (February 2010) home to 44 chimpanzees split into 2 groups, a larger group with 29 members, and the smaller group with the remaining 15.

Visitors to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy have free access to the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary, which is open daily from 9:00am to 10:30am and 3pm to 4:30pm.

Click here to go to the Sweetwaters Sanctuary website