Life at Lwiro Primate Rehabilitation Center

Volunteer Natasha Tworoski shares her observations after visiting legendary PASA sanctuary, Lwiro Primate Rehabilitation Center.

by Natasha Tworoski

Have you ever wondered what it is like to work at a primate sanctuary in Africa? It’s rewarding and inspiring, but it can also be a dirty and exhausting experience. This blog is dedicated to getting a deeper look at a well-respected PASA member located in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo: the Lwiro Primate Rehabilitation Center.

Established in 2002 by two Congolese institutions, the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) and Centre de Recherche en Sciences Naturelles (CRSN), Lwiro is dedicated to saving orphaned and injured primates. They currently care for 85 chimpanzees, 106 monkeys (13 distinct species), parrots, tortoises, porcupines and any animal in need of a second chance. Their long-term goal is to return all animals to the wild, but only if the animals have no debilitating injuries or diseases and are deemed fit enough to survive. Any animals that would be unlikely to survive if returned to the wild will always have a home in the sanctuary.

A typical day at Lwiro starts at 6:30 am. Caretakers arrive and change into work clothes, visually check all the animals to make sure they are healthy and then provide breakfast and medicine, if needed. The outdoor habitats are cleaned, fencing is examined for good integrity and a large forage of vegetables and fruits are spread. The largest enclosure houses 38 chimpanzees who eagerly and noisily wait to be let out from their evening dormitories into the 5-acre enclosure. Two other enclosures nearby also house chimpanzees, including a group of adult males and a group of juveniles. Lwiro also has numerous enclosures for monkeys, aviaries for parrots and a quarantine area for chimpanzees being treated for contagious diseases, a common risk for wild primates in this region. The nursery is the only enclosure caretakers regularly spend time in because the infant chimpanzees are still dependent enough to require extra attention. However, these infants spend most of their time playing with one another, building social skills that will help them when they are integrated into a large chimpanzee community later on.

After the animals are in their outdoor enclosures, caretakers will clean the dormitories and continue to offer produce forages throughout the day. Staff in the commissary area work hard washing, weighing and distributing all the food needed for so many animals. Sometimes the animals receive special treats, such as peanuts or edible flowers.

Caregives create fun enrichment activities for the sanctuary’s chimps.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of primates that still need a home at the sanctuary. To make sure they can help these animals, Lwiro is currently building two new enclosures, one for chimpanzees and one for monkeys. Limited funding has posed a challenge and had deterred these projects from being completed quickly.

Lwiro veterinarian staff are employed by the well-known Gorillas Doctors, another organization affiliated with ICCN. The vets make regular rounds to check on all the animals. They are aware of each animal’s medical issues and specific social challenges. Some routine procedures include anti-parasite medication, implants to prevent pregnancies and prescribing vitamins necessary for the animals to grow strong. It is hoped that many of these animals will one day be returned to the wild. That is why the animals are not neutered, but contraceptive implants prevent babies being born in the sanctuary where space is limited.

With over 3,000 visitors a year, Lwiro’s education department is a vital part of the team. Education staff give guided tours through the sanctuary. Approximately 90% of visitors are Congolese, and tours are a great opportunity for gaining local support for conservation causes.

Despite working in the forests of the D.R.C., where access to resources can be limited, Lwiro’s dedicated staff have formed a tight community and are united in protecting each other, as well as the many animals in their care. Spreading the word of Lwiro incredible work is one of the best ways to bring them much-needed support. Any financial donation you are able to make can also go a very long way in helping this phenomenal sanctuary continue to protect Africa’s wildlife. Click here now to donate.

Lwiro provides the best possible care for orphaned chimps in DRC.

Without centers like Lwiro, confiscation of illegally trafficked chimpanzees would not be possible.