An animal sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is facing demands for ransom money after kidnappers abducted three baby chimpanzees.
“This is the first time in the world that baby monkeys were kidnapped for ransom,” Franck Chantereau, the founder of the sanctuary where the kidnapping took place, told CNN on Friday.
His sanctuary, called Young Animals Confiscated from Katanga (abbreviated as JACK in French), is located in Lubumbashi, close to the DRC-Zambia border, on a key route from Congo to South Africa through which monkeys are smuggled into the rest of the country. world.
The kidnappers entered the sanctuary around 3 a.m. on September 9, Chantereau said, and took three of the five baby chimpanzees he had rescued so far this year: César, Hussein and Monga. He later found the other two hiding in the kitchen.
An hour after the break-in, Chantereau’s wife received three messages and a video of the kidnapped chimps.
“They told us that they were planning to kidnap my children because they were supposed to come here on vacation. But the kidnappers did not come and took these three children hostage and demanded a large ransom from us,” said Chantereau.
The captors had drugged the chimps and threatened to hurt them if Chantereau did not pay the ransom.
“Obviously, it’s impossible for us to pay the ransom,” Chantereau said. “Besides having no money, you have to understand that if we go their way, they could very well do it after two months, and we also have no guarantee that they will return the baby to us.”
Chantereau also worried that it would open the door to more kidnappings. “There are 23 sanctuaries across the continent doing this. If we pay the ransom, it can create a precedent and give ideas to others, so we have to be very careful,” he said.
“We will not give in to such a request,” Michel Koyakpa, media adviser to the DRC’s environment minister, told CNN on Friday.
“(The kidnapping) is inhumane and unnatural,” Koyakpa said.
Authorities are still investigating and trying to identify the kidnappers, with the hope of finding them in the coming days or weeks, according to Koyakpa.
The kidnapping is “the first of its kind in the history of the DRC”, he added.
However, this is not the first time that the Chantereau sanctuary has been targeted. A few months after its creation in 2006, a group of people broke in at night and set fire to the sleeping place of the chimpanzees, killing two of the five who were there at the time.
In September 2013, the sanctuary’s education center burned down, but there were no casualties, according to Chantereau.
It has now been almost two weeks since Chantereau received any evidence from her captors that the chimps were alive, and she is worried.
“We cannot go back to our daily lives, we are completely devastated,” he said.
But Chantereau said the kidnapping will not shake his determination to save the baby chimpanzees from the clutches of smugglers.
“To catch the babies, they have to kill the whole family in the jungle, usually between 8 and 10 individual monkeys, and many baby monkeys will die before reaching their final destination,” Chantereau said.
Many of the buyers of smuggled babies are wealthy people who want to keep exotic animals in their homes, according to Chantereau.
“They don’t understand the consequences of their actions, because at least 10 have died in the hands of one baby,” he said.
It’s also dangerous because chimpanzees grow quickly and an adult chimpanzee can kill an adult human with their bare hands.
Chantereau is not optimistic about the future. “I know, unfortunately, (kidnappings) are going to happen more and more often,” he said.
“All these animals are becoming rarer and rarer in the forest. In sanctuaries, we have animals, they are healthy. It is clear that it is much easier for these people to attack us.”