￼In a nutshell: Moving to the Ivory Coast to improve the welfare of chimpanzees. Need to survive with no source of income for at least one year.
In more detail: At the end of September I will be leaving my job at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and moving to the Ivory Coast in West Africa.
In the past 18 years, the wild chimpanzee population in the Ivory Coast has declined by an estimated 90%. Why does this matter, you may ask? Firstly, chimpanzees are extremely sentient beings who share over 99% of our DNA. As the illegal pet trade continues to thrive, and the demand for baby chimpanzees in places around the world increases, more poachers are killing more chimpanzees in West Africa. It is estimated that for every baby chimpanzee captured for the illegal pet market, at least 10 other chimpanzees (usually immediate family members) had to have been killed. I feel that it is our duty as human beings to help protect the integrity of our closest living relative.
Recent organizations, such as the EAGLE network, have been working with local governments to try and confiscate these chimpanzees before they are shipped out of the country. Once these chimpanzees are confiscated, they must go somewhere; currently, many confiscated in the Ivory Coast are sent to the Abidjan Zoo where resources, space and capacity are scare, often resulting in the chimpanzee's death.
This will be where I come in: since the Ivory Coast does not currently have a chimpanzee sanctuary, I will be working towards bettering the living conditions of the chimpanzees at the Abidjan Zoo. This involves a few things: aiming to create a new, larger semi-natural enclosure to replace the smaller, mostly concrete enclosure in which some of the chimpanzees currently reside, shuffling the current chimpanzee groups to maximize quality of life and positive social interaction, integrating certain chimps that have been living isolated in cages for years with the adult group of chimpanzees, and caring for three baby chimpanzees who are not currently receiving the attention and guidance they need to grow into healthy, adult chimps.
Unfortunately, the Abidjan Zoo does not have the funding to bring in individuals with previous ‘chimpanzee experience’ to assist with this. Thus, I am doing this on a purely voluntary basis and will not have a source of income for at least one year. As terrifying as that is, I am extremely hopeful with the zoo’s willingness to better the quality of life of its chimpanzees will prove to be an educational tool to surrounding populations regarding the needs of chimpanzees.
While working to better chimpanzee welfare, I will be living as simply as possible, but will need to sustain myself with basic necessities such as rent and groceries. I have saved up some money this past year, but since the Ivory Coast houses the headquarters of the African Development Bank, it turns out that the nation is much more expensive than many of its neighbors. When I learned about the high cost of living in the Ivory Coast, I almost decided to cancel my plans. However, I have decided to take a risk and go, in the hopes that this initial investment will lead to a longer-term solution for the betterment of chimpanzee welfare in the Ivory Coast.
Donations from this page will go solely towards initiatives to support the chimps and bettering their living conditions (i.e. intellectual enrichment, alternative solutions to living healthy lives, local community education regarding conservation and animal welfare), while I will use my savings to pay for other basics – rent, food, water and transportation.
There are many other aspects to this project, which I would be more than happy to share, but I will stop here since this post is already long. Any and all donations are welcome and very much appreciated, and even if you cannot donate monetarily at the moment, any kind words would be much appreciated as I gear up to start this new adventure!
P.S. I will be posting sporadic written and video updates here as to the progress being made in-country. Thanks friends and family!! I love you guys.
NOTE: All above photos were taken while volunteering at the Chimpanzee Conservation Center in Guinea. The chimps are orphaned due to the illegal poaching and pet trade, and undergoing a process of rehabilitation - chimps are NOT pets!!
- Patricia Burke
- Adin Vaewsorn
- Richard Foltin
- Stephen A Yankou
- Davila Thompson
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