Jacky, Becky & Pepe
In 1997, Dr. Sheri Speede met Jacky, Becky and Pepe at the Atlantic Beach Hotel in Limbe, Cameroon, where they were held in tiny cages as tourist attractions. Many years earlier they had been captured and sold by the poachers who had killed their mothers for bushmeat.
Sheri was in Africa temporarily volunteering her time as a veterinarian for Limbe Wildlife Center, a local, urban zoo that had been turned into a wildlife sanctuary. The Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center/sanctuary did not yet exist.
Jacky spent at least thirty years of his life in a small, barren cage at the resort hotel in Limbe. He grew from infancy to adulthood, then to middle-age, in total privation. By the 1990s, Jacky was known around town as the “mad” chimpanzee, meaning he was insane. He showed his anguish in bizarre stereotypical behaviors – rocking frenetically back and forth or pounding the top of his head with one fist while he held his other hand in his open mouth – and he was very aggressive toward humans. Anyone coming too close to his cage paid a high price for their mistake. Several people were left with permanent impairment to one of their hands. Whether or not he was insane, Jacky was definitely angry.
In 1998, when Dr. Sheri Speede and staff talked about taking Jacky back to the forest and allowing him to live with other chimpanzees at the new Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center, some people thought he was too dangerous. In fact, Sheri spent many sleepless nights wondering if they were making a mistake. No one was sure if he could be socialized with other chimpanzees.
Becky had been held as a pet for several years before being abandoned at the Atlantic Beach Hotel. She had been in the cage at the hotel for a decade when Sheri met her, and despite all she had lost, her curious and hopeful spirit shined through. Becky’s penetrating, imploring brown eyes stared out from behind the bars of her tiny cell and immediately stole Sheri’s heart.
Pepe was held as a “pet” for at least ten years by the same French couple who eventually bought Becky, and later abandoned them both at the Atlantic Beach Hotel, where they would stay for over ten years. Big, beautiful, confused, lonely and bored out of his mind, Pepe craved human attention and was soon waiting and watching for Sheri’s arrival during those years before his rescue. More than any of the others, his sweet face haunted Sheri and inspired her to save him and the others at all cost.
Sheri’s visit and meeting the chimpanzees that fateful year would change her, Jacky, Becky and Pepe’s lives forever. She promised the three sweet souls that she would one day take them to a new home, and on August 31, 1999, she did.
The owners of the hotel had recognized that the chimpanzees were a safety and public relations liability. European tourists had written letters of complaint about their living conditions, and the management was eager to assist with the chimpanzees’ relocation. But it wasn’t easy.
Because the rainy season had arrived and the rains were especially heavy that year, the roads had been closed to big trucks. Determined to move the chimpanzees as soon as possible, Sheri and her staff took all the seats out of a bush taxi (minivan) to make room for the three transport cages that would carry Jacky, Pepe and Becky to the newly created sanctuary. Despite getting disastrously stuck in the mud somewhere near the middle of their eighteen-hour journey, the team and chimpanzees persevered and safely arrived at Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center.
At the Sanctuary
During the following three years, Jacky astonished everyone. Within the continuously enlarging chimpanzee family at the sanctuary, Jacky was tender with the adult females and gently playful and loving with the juveniles. With the support of the chimpanzee females, Jacky became the alpha male of his social group and learned to play this most important role very well. Today, at over fifty years of age, Jacky is no longer the leader of his group. But in retirement he takes each day easy, enjoying the respect and love of all of us who know him, both chimpanzee and human. He seems content.
At the sanctuary, Becky became playful and mischievous. She was a sweet, flirty, surreptitious plotter who loved to make goofy faces and fluff her “nest” made out of an old tire. She adopted Gabby and was the matriarch and protector of little Luke, Lucy, Future, Emma and others during her glorious years at the sanctuary. In January 2007, our dearest Becky passed away unexpectedly due to bleeding from an abdominal disease that looked similar to endometriosis.
At the sanctuary Pepe also thrived, playing joyfully with the juveniles and often carrying the youngest baby, Gabby, on his back. He passed away much too soon in November 2002, after he fell from a tree and broke his neck. While much of his life was tragic, he was a shining example of resilience that inspired us to do more, try harder, and strive to make the impossible possible.
Dorothy & Nama
After being orphaned and captured by a poacher, Dorothy was sold as a “mascot” and tethered to the ground by a heavy neck chain at an amusement park/hotel. For forty years, Dorothy was taunted and teased by visitors to the park, taught to drink beer and smoke cigarettes for human amusement. People laughed and threw garbage at Dorothy, but no one came close enough to touch her. The hotel staff claimed she was vicious.
Within a month of her first meeting with Sheri, Dorothy was welcoming her new friend with big smiles and warm hugs whenever she visited her.
Nama, a younger chimpanzee who had also had her mother stolen from her for bushmeat, was tethered on a chain within sight but out of reach of Dorothy. For sixteen lonely years Nama lived on this chain. Because she was chained behind Dorothy, and farther from passing visitors who would throw down morsels of food, Nama received little food. She was a small adult, her growth stunted and teeth decayed by years of malnutrition. She also suffered from a severe intestinal parasite infection and resulting anemia. Sheri worried that she might die before they could arrange to take her to Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center.
In May 2000, Sheri and collaborators worked with Cameroon’s Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife (MINFOF) and provided logistical and technical support for a forced confiscation of Dorothy, Nama, eight other primates and two parrots who were also being held at the hotel/park. A caravan of seven vehicles drove into the hotel carrying the officials from MINFOF, seven military police, as well as Sheri and her colleagues, to carry out the first armed confiscation of animals in Cameroon. The police stood guard over Sheri and the others as they worked to load all the primates in transport cages. An hour later the caravan left with 12 new passengers. Dorothy and Nama were taken to Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center and the other animals were divided between Yaoundé Zoo and Limbe Wildlife Center.
At the Sanctuary
Once finding safety at the sanctuary, Nama thrived in her new environment. She was strong, sweet, diplomatic, loyal, with a strong sense of fairness, and she quickly became well respected by all of the other chimpanzees and deeply admired by her caregivers. As the alpha female of Jacky’s group, she supported him fiercely, standing by his side as he led their group of chimpanzees for ten years.
Unfortunately for Dorothy, her experience was not the same. She was often bullied and had to be rescued by Nama frequently during their first two years at the sanctuary. However, that changed in 2002, when she adopted baby Bouboule, a clingy, insecure little boy. She began asserting herself to protect him and soon became well respected by her group.
Dorothy was a kind and giving soul. Those of us who loved her, enjoyed many hours being groomed by her. Her long lovely fingers were patient and unwavering in their gentleness; only seldom did she bow her head and look up sweetly, asking for someone to groom her in reciprocation.
We believe Dorothy loved her human friends, but the relationships most important to her were those within her chimpanzee family and she was respected and loved by everyone. Perhaps most of all by Nama, her loyal friend.
Our sweet Dorothy passed away in September 2008 of heart failure. And our hearts broke again in June of 2012 when dearest Nama also died of heart failure.
In the Spring of 1999, Dr. Sheri Speede discovered Kiki Jackson and a female companion in a small concrete cell at a hotel in the coastal town of Kribi, Cameroon – two days travel from the sanctuary she was building in the Mbargue Forest. Both chimpanzees were adults and estimated to be about fifteen years old at that time. Kiki and his companion were being fed regularly, and despite their dismal living conditions, were in better health than Dorothy and Nama, who needed to be rescued as soon as possible. Sheri promised to return to save Kiki and his companion from their miserable environment.
The next opportunity to visit Kiki came in November 1999 when Sheri sent a volunteer to check on the two chimpanzees. What she discovered was devastating. The person who had been paid to feed them left Kribi in September and no replacement had been hired. Kiki’s companion had starved to death. And Kiki, who was horribly emaciated and barely alive, had refused to let anyone remove her body from the filthy concrete cage. From that day on and until he could be rescued, Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue staff took charge of Kiki’s care, buying his food and hiring someone to feed him.
To save Kiki quickly, a new temporary quarantine cage had to be built but there was a shortage of funds. Knowing the desperation of the situation, Sheri improvised by using scrap metal from the cages of previously rescued chimpanzees. By June 2000, when Kiki was finally brought to Sanaga-Yong, he had already gained over 30 pounds.
At the Sanctuary
Kiki wasn’t able to integrate successfully into Jacky’s group, but when Sheri and the management team introduced him to a group of juvenile chimpanzees, he began to thrive. Playing with young chimpanzees who posed no threat to him and exploring his forested enclosure seemed to bring Kiki a lot of happiness. Today the juveniles are all grown-up, but Kiki is still dominant in his group and loves to laugh and play.
But his many years of isolation, strict confinement and trauma took their toll. Kiki becomes easily nervous and doesn’t like change, so his caregivers strive to respect his routine and treat him with as much gentleness and understanding as possible.