An animal sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is facing demands for ransom money after kidnappers took three of its baby chimpanzees.
“This is the first time in the world that baby monkeys have been kidnapped for ransom,” Franck Chantereau, founder of the sanctuary where the kidnapping took place, told CNN on Friday (23).
Their sanctuary, called Young Animals Confiscated in Katanga (abbreviated to JACK in French), is in Lubumbashi, close to the DRC-Zambia border, on a key route from Congo to South Africa, where the monkeys are smuggled into the rest of the world.
Kidnappers stormed the sanctuary around 3 am on Sept. 9, Chantereau said, and took three of the five baby chimps he had rescued this year — Caesar, Hussein and Monga. He later found the other two hiding in the kitchen.
An hour after the invasion, Chantereau’s wife received three messages and a video of the kidnapped chimpanzees.
“They told us that they planned to kidnap my children because they were supposed to come here for the holidays. But they didn’t come, so the kidnappers took these three babies hostage and demanded a big ransom from us,” Chantereau said.
The kidnappers claimed to have drugged the chimpanzees and threatened to harm them if Chantereau did not pay the ransom.
“Obviously it’s impossible for us to pay the ransom,” Chantereau said.
“Not only do we not have the money, but you have to understand that if we go their way they might very well do it again in two months, and we also have no guarantee that they will return the puppies to us.”
Chantereau was also worried that this would open the door to further kidnappings.
“There are 23 sanctuaries across the continent doing this. If we pay the ransom, it could set a precedent and give other people ideas, so we must be extremely vigilant,” he said.
“We will not give in to this kind of demand,” 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, hoping to find 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 isn’t the first time the shrine of Chantereau has been targeted. Months after its founding, in 2006, a group of people broke in overnight and set fire to the place where the baby chimpanzees sleep, killing two of the five that were there at the time.
In September 2013, the sanctuary’s educational center was set on fire, but there were no casualties, according to Chantereau.
It’s been nearly two weeks since Chantereau received any proof from the kidnappers that the chimps were still alive, and he’s worried.
“We cannot go back to our routine, we are completely devastated,” he said.
But Chantereau said the kidnapping will not shake his resolve to save baby chimpanzees from the clutches of smugglers.
“To catch the babies, they have to kill the whole family in the wild, 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 the smuggled puppies 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 for one baby to get into their hands, at least 10 were killed,” he said.
It is also dangerous as chimpanzees grow quickly and an adult chimpanzee can kill an adult human with his bare hands.
Chantereau is not hopeful about the future. “I know that unfortunately (kidnappings) are going to happen more and more often,” he said.
“All these animals are becoming rarer in the forest. We at sanctuaries, we have animals, they are healthy. It is clear that it is much easier for these people to attack us.”
Source: CNN Brasil