Ebola fears as Kenya mulls adopting Liberian chimps
Kenyan officials said on Friday they were considering conservationists’ appeals to give two baby chimpanzees, rescued from possible traffickers in ebola-hit Liberia, sanctuary in a Kenyan reserve but public health fears were holding up transfer.
Conservationists believe the animals had been victims of trafficking that sent baby chimps from West and Central Africa to Chinese zoos and private estates in the Middle East, where they can fetch as much as $25,000.
But since Ebola was first reported in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, potential buyers have mostly been scared off, as chimps – man’s closest relative in the animal kingdom – can carry the deadly virus.
Ebola has killed more than 11,200 people in West Africa since it broke out in December 2013. Liberia was declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organisation in May, but there have been some new cases since then.
Two-year-old female Sweet Pea, and Guey, another female, were handed over to conservationists in April, and have been cared for by volunteers in the Liberian capital Monrovia.
But conservationists say they want to find a permanent settlement for the animals and Kenya’s renowned Ol Pejeta Conservancy is the only sanctuary with space.
“There is absolutely no other place on the continent that can take them,” Daniel Stiles, a project manager at Kenya’s Ol Pajeta Conservancy, told Reuters. “There’s no place to put them.”
Kenya’s tourism sector took a hit last year from global fears about Ebola, even though it sits further from the Ebola-affected areas than many of the European countries that supply the tourists.
“We would like some information on their health. It is an Ebola country,” Richard Leakey, the chairman of the board of the Kenyan Wildlife Service and a renowned conservationist, told Reuters on Friday. “We’ve got to be very careful about that.”
“It is not no, it is not yes, it’s please come back as soon as you can, because we realize it’s urgent,” Leakey said.
The request has aroused frustration among conservationists, who say Kenyan officials are stonewalling due to the global panic over Ebola.
“If the chimps had Ebola, so would I, because we’ve been interacting with them for months,” said Phoebe McKinney, an American non-governmental worker in Monrovia who has been helping to care for the chimps as a volunteer.
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