Nemley Junior: A Tiny Chimpanzee with a Not-So-Tiny Impact on the Illegal Wildlife Trade

A heartbreaking tragic death of an orphaned baby chimp and the unsettling aftermath

by Jennifer Harris

Nemley Junior, a tiny orphaned baby chimpanzee, was about to be stuffed into a tiny crate, smuggled across the world, and sold as a pet to endure a life of unimaginable cruelty and suffering. Thankfully, after a year-long undercover investigation by the BBC, he was rescued from this dreadful fate. But this victory in the face of the illegal wildlife trade didn’t last long. Less than a year following his rescue, Nemley Junior tragically died in the arms of a dedicated caregiver as he struggled for his last breaths. How did a story of such joy end in heartbreaking turmoil?

Upon Nemley Junior’s freedom from the hands of two big players in the illegal wildlife trade, he was placed with wildlife officials from the Ivorian Ministry of Water and Forests. Later officials transferred him to the Abidjan Zoo, which takes in the majority of confiscated wildlife from the illegal wildlife trafficking ring in the Ivory Coast. Unfortunately, despite requests and offers to send Nemley to a PASA member sanctuary or nearby rescue center that specializes in rehabilitating baby chimpanzees, these pleas were denied by the Ivorian government. However according to the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) treaty, if a country pledges to tackle wildlife crime, they must provide a facility to care for the confiscated animals. Instead, the Ivory Coast relies on the Abidjan Zoo – overcrowded with animals in need of specialized care and without enough people or money to keep up with the demand. Sadly, this isn’t uncommon for African zoos – many have appalling conditions, lack appropriate vet care, and house a multitude of animals suffering both physically and psychologically.

The lack of appropriate animal welfare and care in underfunded African zoos isn’t the only problem many African countries struggle with. The implementation of law enforcement in response to the illegal hunting, smuggling, and selling of endangered wildlife is extremely difficult in the face of political unrest, civil wars, and poverty. Nevertheless, Ivory Coast proudly accomplished its first ever wildlife crime prosecution, with the arrest of the traffickers trying to sell Nemley Junior for $12,500. Even with the very short six month sentence they both served, it sends a strong message that animal trafficking is finally being treated as a criminal offense. PASA member wildlife centers are also contributing to the fight by working closely with law authorities to rescue smuggled primates.

Chimpanzees, along with gorillas, orangutans, and bonobos, are all listed as endangered, with western chimpanzees pushed to a status of critically endangered. It is estimated that between 150,000-250,000 chimpanzees remain in their highly fragmented habitat across equatorial Africa, with fewer than 65,000 western chimpanzees remaining. Chimpanzees have already gone extinct in four African countries – Gambia, Benin, Burkina Faso, and Togo. Habitat loss, the bushmeat trade, and disease are continuing to threaten our closest living relatives with extinction. In the last 20 years alone, Ivory Coast’s chimpanzee population has declined by a shocking 90%.

The needless suffering Nemley Junior had to endure up until his untimely death, highlights the critical need for confiscated primates to go to one of PASA’s 23 member sanctuaries in Africa. Our PASA wildlife centers have both the lifesaving resources and expert knowledge to provide lifelong high-quality care for thousands of endangered apes and monkeys rescued from cruelty and abuse. Extensive vet treatment and round the clock care by a PASA sanctuary could have given the Nemley the chance to thrive. The loss of his short life heightens the vital need for PASA sanctuaries.

In honor of Nemley Junior, won’t you please make it possible to save the lives of other primates in need like him? Donate today – we can’t do it without you!

Photo credits: all photos by BBC.

Nemley Junior just after his rescue from a shipping crate.

Nemley was rescued in a raid of illegal wildlife traders. Even the very short six month sentence the traders served sends a strong message that animal trafficking is finally being treated as a criminal offense in Ivory Coast.

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