Love beckons for recovering monkey in chimp refuge

Posted in 22/08/2017

Nelson Almeida/AFP

Marcelino is calling to her, but Cecilia cannot be with him. Not yet. He may be handsome, but she has suffered a lot and isn’t ready for a relationship.

This is not a soap opera. It is just the way things go in a Brazilian refuge for abused and depressed chimpanzees.

Cecilia, 20, sits on a rooftop and gazes wistfully around – perhaps remembering her childhood spent in a cramped zoo, or her two friends who died there.

Luckily she is now in the best place to have her depression treated: the Sorocaba Great Primates Sanctuary in Sao Paulo.

She is alone in her enclosure but with toys and plenty of space it beats being in a zoo. Her carers say she is slowly getting better.

Cecilia came to Sorocaba four months ago from Mendoza in Argentina, after making legal history in a case brought by animal rights groups. The judge ruled that Cecilia was being held in unsuitable conditions at the Mendoza zoo and should be transferred to Sorocaba. In her ruling, the judge defined Cecilia as “a nonhuman subject of law”. Though she is a chimp, the law applied to her as it would to a person.

Cecilia had spent her whole life in the zoo. She was lonely, heartbroken by the deaths of Charly and Xuxa, her two lifetime chimp companions.

“When she arrived here she had no physical problems but she was very depressed,” said Camila Gentille, a vet at the sanctuary. “She used to spend all her time lying down and did not interact with anyone.”

Now Cecilia is starting to eat better and even looks over and replies when Marcelino calls to her from his nearby enclosure, as she sits on her perch.

In Sorocaba Cecilia shares a 500,000m2 refuge of trees, grass and enclosures with about 50 other chimps, as well as hundreds of other animals such as lions and bears.

Some of the apes receive medication to stop them mutilating themselves. But they also benefit from emotional support.

“It is very important to talk to them so they don’t feel lonely,” said Merivan Miranda, one of the carers. “So they know there is someone who understands them.”

One of the chimps, Dolores, 18, sits shrieking on her perch: the mental effect of years of mistreatment in a zoo.

Another, Jango, gives a broad but toothless smile when the director of the sanctuary, Pedro Ynterian, approaches.

The zoo keepers who used to own Jango castrated him and pulled his teeth out. He came to the sanctuary in 2003.

“These animals were abused and mistreated in circuses and zoos and taken by traffickers who made money out of them,” Ynterian says. “They need a place where they will be treated decently, without visits by the public, that is not a zoo.”

Ynterian has spoken widely about how he took part in his native Cuba in a foiled attack against its late Communist leader Fidel Castro. Now this microbiologist fights for the animals. He joined up with the Great Ape Project, an international association which targets mistreatment in circuses and zoos.

“I’ve had some serious problems,” he says. “People even tried to kill me a few years ago, because there’s a lot of money involved in the market in animals.” – AFP