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When a Baby Gorilla Cried

When a Baby Gorilla Cried

When a Baby Gorilla Cried


Pitchou, a female gorilla, was born in the central African forest. When Pitchou was about one year old, hunters killed her mother and all the other members of her gorilla group for food. Because Pitchou was too small to sell for meat, she was spared to be sold as a pet. Meanwhile, Pitchou became sick and cried constantly.

PITCHOU is just one of many thousands of orphaned primates. A number of activities have combined to create this sad situation. One is the illegal trade in bush meat. Capitalizing on the demand by some restaurants and individuals for exotic meats, professional hunters prowl forests day and night. Meanwhile, middlemen operate the lucrative, but illegal, local and international networks to market the animals and the meat.

A second activity involves unsustainable logging. When forests are destroyed, animals are robbed of homes, hiding places, and feeding and nesting sites. Moreover, the two practices tend to support each other. How so? For one thing, logging roads provide hunters with easy access to forest habitats, where the now confused, and often displaced, animals become easy prey. Other factors include human population growth, the demand for protein, increased urbanization, and more efficient hunting technologies, as well as warfare and the resulting proliferation of firearms. As a result, primates and a number of other species are being driven ever closer to extinction, leading to what has been called the empty-forest syndrome. But that may not be the only problem. How so? By contributing to seed dispersal, for example, animals play a part in the health and diversity of forest ecosystems. So when the fauna (animal life) is gone, the flora (plant life) may be affected too.

Yet, the killing continues. In parts of West Africa in just one ten-year period, some primate populations dropped to a tenth of what they had been. “If the poaching continues,” say wildlife experts in Cameroon, “soon there will be no more gorillas left in the wild.” *

Saving Orphans

In response to this tragic situation, conservation groups, such as the Limbe Wildlife Centre, nestled at the foot of Mount Cameroon in sub-Saharan West Africa, work for the protection of endangered species. At the Limbe center, visitors can observe gorillas, chimpanzees, mandrills, and 13 additional primate species, along with a variety of other animals. In recent years the center has cared for nearly 200 orphaned and displaced animals, providing them with a safe home, food, and veterinary care. Another role of the center is to promote conservation awareness among its many visitors from Cameroon, nearby countries, and around the world​—more than 28,300 in a recent year.

This brings us back to Pitchou. Heartbroken by the young gorilla’s cries, concerned onlookers bought her from the hunters and gave her to the center. When the youngster arrived, she received a thorough checkup in the center’s infirmary. Besides emotional trauma, she suffered from a cough, dehydration, malnutrition, diarrhea, and skin lesions. Because of skin problems, she was named Pitchou, which means “spotted” in the local dialect. Happily, Pitchou responded well to treatment and did not require surgery, which the center can perform when needed.

As is usual for animals arriving at the center, Pitchou’s first 90 days there were spent in quarantine. Then she joined 11 fellow gorillas in an outdoor enclosure, which reflects the natural forest environment. The hearts of staff members were warmed at seeing the older primates befriend the new arrival. This is not unusual, and as a result, Pitchou quickly became part of the group.

Close, friendly contact between the animals and their human caretakers generates strong attachments. Seeing the activities at the center can help a visitor understand the moral responsibility that God imposed on humans when he instructed the first couple to have the earth and its animals in subjection.​—Genesis 1:28.

What Future for the Orphans?

The program’s ultimate goal is to release its charges back into the wild. This is a tall order, however. Animals that are used to human care are often ill-equipped to survive on their own. Again they risk becoming meat on someone’s table. Several African countries have agreed to create transborder protected areas and to improve the management of existing areas. Hopefully those arrangements will facilitate the release of orphaned animals and contribute to the preservation of not only primates but all the wildlife in the region.

In the meantime, every indication is that the opposing forces​—greed, poverty, rapid human population growth, and deforestation—​will continue to take a heavy toll on primates and other animals. If increased protection does not come quickly, “a terminal decline in the population numbers of wild species will probably occur,” states Felix Lankester, project manager of the Limbe Wildlife Centre. “The result . . . could be the extinction in the wild of the very creatures that we are working with.”

What a tragedy! But it is an even greater tragedy to see humans suffer from malnutrition and disease and to see children, with bloated bellies and runny eyes, die for want of food. Clearly, Pitchou’s problem underscores the sad state of the world as a whole​—especially its inequalities and injustices.

Happily, the Creator is not indifferent to what is happening on earth. Soon he will eradicate the very causes of cruelty, suffering, and extinction and will establish lasting harmony among all living things.​—Isaiah 11:6-9.


^ par. 6 Health experts warn that handling and eating bush meat may also spread such deadly diseases as anthrax and Ebola, as well as viruses similar to HIV, from animals to humans.

[Pictures on page 22, 23]

Pitchou before and after she regained good health

[Picture on page 23]

A red-eared guenon

[Picture on page 23]

A drill taking care of its baby

[Picture on page 24]

The Limbe center entrance

[Picture on page 24]

Taking care of Bolo, an orphaned gorilla

[Picture Credit Line on page 23]

All photos pages 22 and 23: Limbe Wildlife Centre, Cameroon

[Picture Credit Line on page 24]

Both photos: Limbe Wildlife Centre, Cameroon