Three orphaned chimpanzees are being held in a heartbreaking 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 was sent to the Lubumbashi sanctuary showing one chimp, Monga, with her hands tied above her head as the other two terrified animals, Hussein and Cesar, try to scramble from their abductors.
“You can see how terrified they are,” Franck Chantereau, the founder of the sanctuary, the J.A.C.K. Primate Rehabilitation Centre, told The Times of London.
Chantereau said in a tweet that the abductors have also threatened the life of his wife and to kidnap his children.
“We need your prayers,” he tweeted in French.
The abductors, who snatched the chimps early this month, have threatened to kill the animals, ages 2 to 5 years old, and send their heads to the center if their demands for the unspecified amount of money aren’t met.
Chantereau has vowed not to pay the ransom because he believes doing so would only encourage more abductions, but the center is working with law enforcement to locate the abductors and save the chimps.
Chantereau is pessimistic about seeing the chimps again because they’re worth about $11,000 each on the black market.
“It is a nightmare … it was such a disaster,” Chantereau told online environmental publication Mongabay. “We have faced a lot of challenges for … years now. But we have never experienced anything like this: the kidnapping of apes.”
The abducted chimps had been orphaned by the illegal traffic in wildlife, according to Chantereau, which involves the murder of baby chimps’ families. The most recently rescued chimp, 2-year-old Cesar, had been at the center only a few weeks before he was taken.
“They had all been given a second chance, but now this fresh horror,” Chantereau told the Times. Since he founded the sanctuary 16 years ago, he said the illegal wildlife trade has “become a war,” and the roughly 100 endangered apes at his facility are now under armed guard.
Adams Cassinga, director of ConservCongo, a Congolese nonprofit organization that investigates and helps prosecute wildlife crimes, says the incident is a worrying sign that wildlife traffickers are becoming bolder in the absence of effective law enforcement.
“This is the first time I have heard of people literally kidnapping animals so that they can ask for money,” he said.
Chimpanzees, humans’ closest relatives, are listed as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.
An estimated 1 million chimpanzees roamed the forests of western and central Africa in the early 1900s. Now their numbers haven dwindled to as few as 150,000. The largest population, around 115,000, is found the DRC, 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.