Freedom Goes Free:
Returning a Gorilla to the Wild in Cameroon

Ape Action Africa successfully returns an adult lowland gorilla back to the wild.

by Esther Clarke Snyder

PASA is thrilled to share that one of our members, Ape Action Africa, has successfully returned an adult lowland gorilla back to the wild, becoming the first sanctuary in Cameroon to do so.

The gorilla was aptly named “Freedom” by the team and his story is full of unexpected challenges. No one is quite sure where he came from, but staff at Ape Action Africa, a wildlife center in southwestern Cameroon, were alerted to his presence on the morning of August 24th, 2019. The center is home to gorillas, chimpanzees, and diverse monkey species. In fact, the team originally thought Freedom had escaped from the center. But caregivers soon realized that Freedom was not one of their resident gorillas.

The team needed to act to quickly to protect their visitor. An event like this had never occurred in the 23 years since the wildlife center opened, but due to deforestation and the growing human population now living in and around the center, the area was no longer safe for wild gorillas – he had to be captured, at least temporarily.

Center Director Rachel Hogen, OBE, along with Ape Action Africa’s Controller, Mr. Appolinaire Ndohoudou authorized the tranquilizing and securing of Freedom, who was then housed in an unoccupied satellite cage. Meanwhile, efforts began to find a suitable place to return Freedom to the wild – and to raise the funds needed to do so.

Freedom was completely unhabituated to humans, making his time at the center stressful for gorilla and caregivers alike. He needed to be back in the wild quickly, but finding a good return site required many months, with multiple reconnaissance trips to investigate potential sites.

Finally, an appropriate return site was found. Now the team had to manage to transport the 135KG gorilla. A veterinary team from Twycross Zoo, in the United Kingdom, including CEO Dr. Sharon Redrobe OBE, was dispatched to Cameroon to help with health checks and logistics. The team had to hand-build a transport cage especially for Freedom and determine the dose of tranquilizer needed to sedate him and get him inside. Once in the cage, he was given lots of tasty leaves to munch on when he woke up. And the 11 hour drive began.

Twycross Zoo’s Head of Life Sciences, Dr. Matyas Liptovszky, accompanied Freedom throughout his long road journey to monitor his condition and ensure his safety. But the journey didn’t end on the road. To reach his new home, Freedom also had to be transported across a river.

Once they crossed the river, the team then carried the still sleeping Freedom the rest of the way to the return site. Once they were sure Freedom was fully awake, the team backed away and began unlocking the door of the cage from a distance, using safety ropes. As the final rope was pulled and the door opened, Freedom bolted for the trees to reclaim the independence he was named after.

After making sure that no one had followed them, and that Freedom was nowhere in sight, the exhausted and exhilarated team were able to relax fully into the knowledge that they had successfully returned a gorilla to the wild – an historic first for Cameroon.

Read the full story of Freedom’s journey at Ape Action Africa’s site here.

And don’t forget that your donations make success stories like this possible. Donate to Ape Action Africa here.

1– Freedom arrives at Ape Action Africa.
2 – Ape Action’s leadership team.
3 – Freedom travels to a new home.
4 – Freedom is free.
4– Ape Action celebrates a first.

Photos 1, 4, and 5  © Passion Planet.

Photos 2 and 3 © Ape Action Africa.