Nemley Junior: chimp rescued from traffickers dies

David Shukman
Science editor

image captionNemley Junior had received dedicated care but succumbed to illness

An orphaned baby chimpanzee whose plight moved people around the world has died.

Nemley junior had been seized by poachers in West Africa and offered for sale but was then rescued following a BBC News investigation.

Despite dedicated care in the past few weeks, he succumbed to a series of illnesses including malaria.

A leading vet who helped care for him said that, without his mother, Nemley suffered from a "failure to thrive".

In the wild, baby chimps usually live with their mothers for at least four to five years.

During his capture, Nemley would have witnessed the killing of his mother during a poaching raid that would have seen as many as 10 adults in his family shot. The two men who were found guilty of his trafficking were released from jail 10 days ago.

Sarah Crawford, an American NGO worker who had been caring for Nemley full-time for the past three weeks, said: ''He died in my arms. He did not die alone in a cage. He really fought to stay alive. He was taking fluids until 30 minutes before he died. I am still in shock. None of us can quite believe what has happened.''

Nemley was 15 months old when he died. His body will be autopsied. ''This will give us useful information, which will be helpful to others caring for baby orphans,'' said Samouka Kane, director of the National Zoo of Abidjan, and a vet.

media captionChimps for sale: Undercover report in full

Infant chimpanzees are in demand as pets in wealthy homes in Asia and the Gulf states. A BBC reporter working undercover was quoted a price of $12,500 (£9,700) for Nemley.

Conservationists say that if baby chimps are rescued from traffickers, they have a poor chance of survival unless they are given intensive care right from the moment that they are liberated.

After the police operation in Ivory Coast that freed Nemley last December, based on undercover information provided by the BBC, detectives handed Nemley to wildlife officials from the Ivorian Ministry of Water and Forests.

The officials transferred him to the zoo in Ivory Coast's largest city, Abidjan, where initially he was placed in quarantine which meant that he was left alone at night.

When I saw him again last March, he seemed to have gained weight and some confidence and was evidently bonding with one of his keepers.

He was a popular addition to the zoo and when the UK's Africa minister visited the country, he was shown Nemley to highlight an example of a successful operation against animal traffickers.

But soon afterwards Nemley was placed in a cage with other chimpanzees in the hope that an older female, Kiki, would "adopt" him as she had with other young chimps.

But in the event she showed no interest in Nemley, and although a much younger female did pay him some attention, this did not amount to a proper family bonding.

While in the cage, Nemley also suffered during rough play with a slightly older male, and was injured during what might have been bullying.

One visitor spotted Nemley sitting alone and rocking backwards and forwards, a typical symptom of stress among chimpanzees.

At this stage he became ill, losing weight, becoming dehydrated and suffering from a series of illnesses.

He was removed from the cage to be given more dedicated support, including infant formula, and showed signs of recovery with a better diet and the attention of volunteers.

Video taken earlier this month showed him sitting upright but also looking far older than his one year of age and far more sluggish in his movements than is normal.

In the past few weeks, however, his decline continued.

A vet specializing in chimpanzees, Jimmy Desmond, visited Nemley. He and his wife Jenny care for rescued and abandoned chimpanzees in Liberia.

Jenny Desmond said of Nemley that "he simply never had enough good days in a row to recover and turn a corner."

"Among all Nemley's physical ailments, to me this is a 'failure to thrive' situation. He never got the intensive nurturing he needed after his confiscation."

The secret trade in baby chimps. By David Shukman and Sam Piranty

A secret network of wildlife traffickers selling baby chimpanzees was exposed by a year-long BBC News investigation.

The plight of Nemley junior highlights not only the cruel and secret trade in infant chimpanzees but also the challenge of caring for animals that are rescued.

Ivory Coast does not have a dedicated sanctuary for chimpanzees seized from traffickers where specialist care can be given.

When Nemley was rescued, the BBC was contacted by several sanctuaries in other countries in Africa including Liberia, Uganda and Kenya offering to take him.

When we passed these offers to officials at Ivory Coast's Ministry of Water and Forests, they were declined. We were told that not only had Nemley been seized in Ivory Coast - and therefore "belonged to Ivory Coast" - but also that Abidjan zoo had the capacity and skills to care for him.

But it is evident from my visits to the zoo, and from the testimony of others familiar with it, that the institution is seriously underfunded, that its keepers resent their low pay, and that more animals are being sent to the zoo than can be properly handled.

Repairs to a large chimp enclosure have dragged on for years so that adult chimps have to be kept in cages.

Offers to help construct a specialist facility for young chimpanzees have been made repeatedly but are never acted on.

One hope among conservationists is that the death of Nemley junior will highlight the plight of infant chimps caught up in a brutal trade and that it will create new impetus for specialist care.

"Nemley's story has touched all our hearts", said one conservation worker who said she hopes that there will be a positive legacy.

At the very least, the operation to free Nemley led to the first convictions for wildlife crime in the history of Ivory Coast. Earlier this month, Ibrahima and Mohamed Traore were given six-month jail sentences and fines equivalent to $500. However after being held in prison waiting trial since last December, they have now been released.

And the international crime agency Interpol, which until now has had no funding for tackling chimp trafficking, has started to bring together detectives and officials from half a dozen countries to coordinate action in future.

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