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Oakland Zoo raises money to help trapped chimps

on October 27, 2014

The Oakland Zoo held its fourteenth annual public gala on October 7 to raise awareness about chimpanzees accidentally caught in traps in Africa. The event, which took place in the Marian Zimmer Auditorium and was attended by more than 100 people, featured a silent auction to raise money for the Budongo Snare Removal Project, located in Uganda’s Budongo Forest.

“The chimpanzees could lose their hands, limbs, or get infected,” said Amy Gotliffe, conservation director at the zoo.

According to wildlife conservationists at the Jane Goodall Institute, over a million chimpanzees used to live in Africa. Due to excessive logging and habitat loss, the number of chimpanzees has decreased to 150,000, prompting the International Union for Conservation of Nature to add them to its list of endangered species.

In the Budongo forest, illegal capturing of bush meat further threatens the surviving chimpanzee population. Although most traps are set for deer and wild boars, chimpanzees often get caught in them as they roam through the forest. Small snares cut off circulation, while larger traps can crush an animal’s legs and arms. The snare patrol team, which is funded by the project, rescues animals from the traps, then takes them to project veterinarians for treatment.

To pay for removing chimpanzees from traps and nursing them back to health, the Budongo Snare Removal Project relies on donations plus receipts from the annual gala, where participants pay a $40 entry fee and a silent auction is held.

Among the roughly 50 auction items was a behind-the-scenes tour with a Giant Anteater. The winner will be able to feed and bathe the exotic animals at Happy Hollow Park & Zoo in San Jose. Another highlight was the so-called “Elephant Pedicure Gift Certificate.” The highest bidder can bring five other guests to observe an Oakland Zoo elephant going through its morning routine, including foot inspection and bathing.

The money the project raises provides salaries, living assistance, and medical allowance for the snare patrol team, which is made up of ex-poachers. The fund also pays for the team’s equipment, such as rain boots, tents, and GPS handsets, which they use to map the location of traps in the Budongo Forest.

In addition, money is used to buy breeding goats for community members who are willing to give up poaching, creating an alternative way to obtain food as well as income. The Budongo Veterinary Team, also funded by the project, regularly cares for the goats, helps remove trapped animals, and provides medical services for other livestock.

Conservation director Gotliffe acknowledged that some people may question the value of supporting a program that’s so far away. “The truth is, we are all connected,” she said. “The actions we take in the Bay Area do affect animals all over the world.”

Besides giving donations and participating in big events such as the gala, Gotliffe said that people can help by avoiding products that belittle primates. She doesn’t watch movies that feature chimpanzees, because they often portray them in a silly manner. Even if the chimpanzees are featured in a positive light, she said, you never know whether they are being treated well away from the set.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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