Jenny and Jim Desmond arrived in Liberia in 2015 with a big job to do – overseeing the care of the 66 chimpanzees abandoned on six islands by the New York Blood Center. Little did they know that, within weeks of their arrival, the government would be adding to their workload by bringing them orphaned baby chimpanzees who needed sanctuary.
Liberia has an estimated 7,000 wild chimpanzees remaining in its forests. The fact that these great apes are endangered doesn’t stop poachers from illegally hunting them for their meat. The baby chimps, orphaned when their mothers are killed for their meat, are then sold as exotic pets.
Before the Desmonds arrived in Liberia, the government turned a blind eye to the illegal chimp trade because authorities had no place to bring chimps who they could have confiscated from their captors or new “owners.” Because the Desmonds have experience rescuing and rehabilitating great apes, authorities began to bring them babies – some just weeks old.
The Desmond’s property in Liberia, which is owned by the government and is adjacent to a busy laboratory, is not ideal for raising orphaned chimps. Jenny and Jim are therefore now tasked with looking for land in a nearby forest to build a proper sanctuary with all of the facilities needed to care for the chimps, including an infirmary, overnight housing for the babies, a kitchen, offices and housing for caregivers and volunteers. The Desmonds have already created an entity, Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue & Protection (LCRP). Now, they need to raise money in order to build the sanctuary.
Jenny Desmond is quick to point out that providing sanctuary for rescued chimps is only part of their mission. One of their biggest priorities is using the sanctuary as a platform to educate the public about the importance of conserving chimpanzees in their natural habitat. “We’ll know that our efforts are having an impact when we stop receiving chimps,” said Desmond. “Our ultimate goal is to not need to exist at all.”