Meet the couple who parent them, their local carers, and of course, the chimps.
Immediately transported into the sunshine, you join a non-biological family of happy, lively, and cuddly animals who are running around their garden, sliding down banisters, and swinging on ropes. But it’s not playtime all day at the rescue centre in Liberia. The chimps have got a lot to learn. Dr Ben Garrod, evolutionary biologist and chimp specialist has arrived, and it’s time to teach the chimps who to avoid, how to climb, and how to forage for food. Otherwise they may not survive in the forest.
There are twenty-one chimps bouncing around Dr Garrod’s feet. Jenny and Jimmy Desmond welcome him to the sanctuary they have created together. He greets the couple enthusiastically. With chimps being killed for their meat, the babies, often injured by the hunters, are sold and kept illegally as pets. Dr Garrod gets to say hello to the lucky ones. Chimps laugh when tickled, have a sense of humour, and are very intelligent. But, due to them not living in the wild, the chimps aren’t scared of deadly snakes. So, it’s time for them to learn the alarm call and when to run away. Some of the chimps graduate, some need to repeat the class. The next lesson is climbing. One of the baby chimps gets it straight away, but they don’t all want to focus. Wrapping themselves in toilet paper is far more enjoyable than school. The chimps will make you smile and squeal at their cuteness. But they can be hard to control, and they don’t always do what they’re told. Chimps are territorial animals. The sanctuary is the only place to take rescued chimps, though it can be hard for them to settle in and learn to socialize.
Following a tip off it’s suddenly time for a rescue. No one knows what it will be like. Jenny goes to meet the police at the location, unaware of the state the chimp will be in. She’s tied to the ground with a chain which is around her neck. With caution, Jenny speaks to her, and then envelops her in a hug. Her sad eyes looking back at the owners who didn’t look after her. She’s safe now. It is the humans’ fault that chimps, our closest living relatives, might die out. The numbers of chimps have been drastically declining, and they are critically endangered.
Four babies sleep in the couple’s bed at night. But it’s not the only place which can’t fit any more chimps in. The centre is way over capacity. Plus, Jimmy and Jenny have been spending all of their own money so far. The chimps will only get back to the forest, to live in a larger and semi wild space, if Jenny and Jimmy can get them there. It’s beautiful. You can see, from the views above the canopies of the forest’s tallest trees, the chimps would be happy there. But the couple are struggling. It’s expensive to run the centre, and even more chimps are expected to arrive. With the sanctuary running out of staff, without the money to start building their new home, and with more orphan arrivals likely, will the chimps make it to the forest? All we know is that we can trust Jenny and Jimmy not to walk away. They can’t say no to the orphan chimps.
Hosted by the Arnolfini, UWE Bristol presented the premiere screening of Baby Chimp Rescue, which was made by BAFTA winning and UWE alum Lindsay Parietti. The screening was followed by a Q&A. Lynn Barlow, the university’s assistant vice-chancellor creative and cultural industries and award-winning journalist and film maker introduced the film, and led the Q&A with Lindsay. Lindsay is a film maker and journalist. She was awarded a student BAFTA for her film “blood island”, which she created for a student project as part of her wildlife film making MA. The short film tells the story of medical experiments on chimpanzees in Liberia. Following on from this, Lindsay then developed the idea for the Baby Chimp Rescue series. She then produced it with the BBC natural history unit. The series needed eight two-week long trips to film, which took over a year. Lindsay described the whole process as a “whirlwind” and the chimps as “fun and cute”. Lindsay explained that she always wanted to tell stories like this and to reach people through television. She described TV as a more democratic medium, since she previously worked in journalism, which has the potential to reach more people. Aside from donating money, Lindsay suggested following the Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue and Protection on social media and sharing their information to help them look after the chimps.
To find out more, check out the Baby Chimp Rescue documentary on BBC iPlayer.
Featured image by Morwenna Bugg