Author Archives: chimfunshi

My name is Innocent Mulenga. I run the Chimfunshi education centre as well as overseeing the welfare of 105 chimpanzees at the sanctuary. I have been at Chimfunshi since February 2005.


Mila is one of our oldest chimps at the sanctuary. She is probably around 40. In the last few months we have seen her confining her self in a room and not wanting to go out in the forest and play with friends. Whereas before she would periodically go out and even sleep in the trees, now she has said NO to leave her cage. Signs of old age have forced her into retirement.

Mila arrived here at Chimfunshi in 1990 at the age of 18. Prior to her arrival she spent most of her life in a pub somewhere in Arusha drinking and smoking cigarettes. She was first bought in a meat market in Cameroon when she was a tiny baby. At the age of three she was taken to Tanzania and left at the Mount Meru Game Lodge. She became the main attraction at a public bar and was known as the beer drinking, smalking chimp. It was Jane Goodall that rescued her and brought her to Chimfunshi. Mila had not known life in the wild and it was not possible for Jane Goodall to introduce her to chimpanzees at Gombe National Park in Tanzania. She was the oldest chimpanzee ever to arrive at Chimfunshi. For the first few months at Chimfunshi she suffered from withdrawal symptoms as she was weaned off the beer and cigarettes. She eventually settled down well and seemed quiet content with her new surroundings.

‘Old age’ started creping on her a few years ago but she tried hard to fight it off. There were times when she would demand to be in a cage alone and refuse to join friends outside. This would go on for several days and then she would demand to be let out. This pattern of behaviour went on for some time until 3 months ago when this changed completely. She started staying in the cages for longer periods than before and refused to share her cage with anyone at meal times. This made it very difficult for the other chimps because they had to be crammed in one single cage at meal times. It now looks like the group members have realized what’s going on and they have started respecting her privacy even though some juveniles try to torment her from time and again.

So what is next for our lady? Our plan would be to move her into a new enclosure where she can enjoy the sun and hopefully make a nest in the trees without any interference from the juveniles that always want to pick on her. But this can only be done once funds are available and the enclosure is finished. This would eventuary act as a retirement home for some of our chimps.

The oldest chimp at Chimfunshi.
The oldest chimp at Chimfunshi.

Mila's new home


In 1994 at the age of 14, Tina came to Chimfunshi together with Charles from Munda Wanga Botanical gardens in Lusaka Zambia. After 15 years at Chimfunshi, Tina finally died on 2nd July, 2009. She is survived by three off springs, one male and two females. According to our Vet, she suffered from kidney failure resulting from urinary tract infection. The report further show that she had: one enlarged kidney, one regressed kidney and non functional. She also had a slight enlargement of the liver – resulting in mild jaundice.

The story of Tina stretches back to Munda Wanga Zoo where they were kept. While at the Zoo, Tina gave birth to an infant in 1992 but due to her inexperience as a mother and improper Zoo management, the baby died a few months later.  Another infant was born at Munda Wanga shortly before their permanent transfer to Chimfunshi.  Unfortunately, this infant also died shortly afterwards.  There arrival at Chimfunshi in 1994 was a very good thing as these chimps and other animals were facing starvation at the Zoo. Munda Wanga had suffered from lack of financial resources and inexperienced staff for a number of years.  As a result, the Zoo standards declined to such an extent that the animals were not being managed or fed. Earlier in 1992, Charles and Tina had lived at Chimfunshi for a short period while the Zoo carried out some repair work to their cages. Unfortunately the Zoo insisted that they be returned.  For about 18 months prior to their permanent transfer to Chimfunshi, the chimps and the rest of the animals at the Zoo were being fed by volunteers who visited the Zoo daily to offer what assistance they could in order to save the animals.

At Chimfunshi she integrated very well with the other chimps. On 8 July 1995, Tina gave birth to an infant which was named Thompson.  Unfortunately, Tina still proved not to be a good mother.  Each time she wanted attention, she would scream and abuse the infant by hitting and shaking him.  Thompson was reluctantly removed from Tina for the sake of his own safety. 3 years later in 1998, Tina gave birth to a healthy female named Tess.  She also gave birth to another female, Toni, on 23 January 2003. The last baby she had in January 2007 right before we started birth control died mysteriously in September 2008. She had over groomed the baby and even at the age of 1 year 6 months, the baby never moved away from the mother or mix with others. Going by her past history of poor maternal instincts, we were all worried for the baby. Her group which comprised 46 chimps had a lot of good mothers. One would have thought that after all these years she had learnt something from the other mothers.

On the day that she died, all the chimps from her group led by their alpha male (Zsabu) congregated at her window. Even though they couldn’t see her, they knew that something was not right.

 Tess and Tony looked divastated, we just hope other mothers will allow them into their families groups.


Old Habits Die Hard

On 13th February, 2008 we moved a 13 chimps from the Orphanage (8 km away) to the Trust land (Project Area). This group had under gone 3 years of integration by keepers from the Orphanage. However, we couldn’t move them to the trust land as there was no enclosure read for them. It was not until a new enclosure was built that we decided to move them. At the Orphanage, they occupied an area of 6 acres and now they occupy 75 acres of thick miombo forest the Project.

Amongst this group is a male chimp by the name of Chiffon. Despite been in a 75 acre out door enclosure, he always want to be on the wrong side of the fence. Prior to his arrival at Chimfunshi in April 2002, he was kept us a pet in Ivory Cost together with Berta (female chimp). They were voluntarily brought to Chimfunshi and their journey was covered by a private film crew from Botswana. Chiffon arrived in very good condition and full of life. While as a pet, he used to wear his favourite female dress known as Chiffon. These dresses were a big thing in the 80’s and 90′. This might explain why he was given such a name.

While under going integration, he craved for human and always wanted to be with them. With time, he learnt how to live with other chimps but his ever thinking mind never liked to be enclosed in a fence. He would skim plans and lead his friends into escaping. Even though they never caused any damage, this was a bad sign as it sent shock waves and panic amongst staff and people around. Every time he was under pressure in his small enclosure, he would find ways and means of escaping, hoping to get reassurance or support from humans. Been a problem maker never impressed his friends, some of them would refuse to follow him on his ‘adventures’.

With his group been moved to the Project Area, every one hoped that he would settle down in the huge space that was provided. He did well in the first six months; he never tried his escaping antiques. May be he was still studying the surroundings and trying to come up with a plan. It was not until we started constructing Sandy’s cage that he now wanted to investigate and see what was going on at the construction site. His first escape wasn’t anticipated because he jumped from a very tall tree and stood still for a few seconds, his legs were probably numb. Every one at the site was shocked with his determination of wanting to be on the other side of the fence.

Chiffon using a pliars 

The keepers performed their escape drills and in no time, he was locked in Sandy’s unfinished cage. The new cage kept him busy and he made use of the tools he found and eventually made his way out of the unfinished cage. 

 chiffon preparing his escape tool  chiffon read to take his chances

 Laying a branch on the Fence

We managed to put him back into his original cage and then rectified the problem.

Such actions by chimps like this have prompted us into building chimp proof cages like the one below for Sandy. However, such enclosures deprive them of natural trees and the huge out door space that they are supposed to enjoy. Once completed, this can serve as his alternative home, even though we are still hopeful that he’ll stop his old habits and settle down in his natural enclosure.

Sandy’s enclosure

Bird-Guide Training Course.

By: Leslie Raynolds – ZOS  Local Guide Trainer. 

From 29 May to 8 June, the Zambian Ornithological Society (ZOS) conducted a week-long local bird-guide training course at Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust. The training was part of the Important Bird Area (IBA) Program which operates internationally under the NGO Birdlife International. There are three IBAs which were considered, on the criteria of access and convergence of habitat types and bird species, to be eligible for inclusion in the Chimfunshi Course. One of these, of course, was Chimfunshi which is IBA number 22 in Zambia. There were 7 participants and 2 were from Chimfunshi (Patrick Chimpanzee & Stemson Hamalambo).

 The bird groups we concentrated on, which are familiar to all attendees, are the Miombo and Mushitu communities. Miombo is a woodland type covering about 50% of the country, which hosts the majority of birds endemic to (only found in) the Zambezian Biome – the vast swathe of Africa associated with the drainage of the Zambezi River. The Mushitu, a localized moist forest community, contains more of these and in the Northwest of the country, overlaps with those of the Congo Basin.   

   Guides spotting a rare bird            

The course covered several aspects of local guiding: Bird Identification, Use of Bird Book, Interacting with guests, Field Skills, Language Development. Our day was basically structured as follows:

0600-1100 – Field Work

1300/1400-1700 – Class-work.

It was low-key but intensive. Our major emphasis was on Book-work and Sound Recognition (song and call).  Because the Mushitu (Ravine) and other habitat is so thick, it was important that we train the guides in recognising birds from there different calls and songs. Another thing  very useful as a training tool, and essential as a skill in local guides, is Local Knowledge. This was used in a facilitating role and the approach yielded results which I found very encouraging. What’s important now is continued work by the guides to build on this momentum. There will be a follow-up later in the individual IBAs, but in order to work towards this, the guides need their own bird books and binoculars. 

  Guide Trainer 

“Zsabu Special”

By: Sarah Nielsen

Life at Chimfunshi never ceases to surprise us. As a visiting researcher I was again reminded of the infinitely complex and intricate social structures in the life of a chimpanzee. Because social groups at Chimfunshi include chimps of all ages we are able to observe a more natural hierarchy with old and young chimps alike. Here chimps are allowed and encouraged to socialize naturally, sometimes in ways that may be unfit for a greeting card.

            In this particular incident Zsabu the alpha male in enclosure two, grabbed an infant chimp by the ankle and dragged it viciously in a large circle for several long seconds. What ensued was mass panic and chaos. The mother, as well as a dozen others, chased Zsabu and the young chimp, screaming at the top of their lungs as only a frightened chimpanzee can. As soon as Zsabu let go, the mother flew past her infant and immediately presented her rear to Zsabu as a sign of submission, before returning to comfort her young one.

            Fortunately, chimps are strong and resilient, so this little guy wasn’t hurt. While we were originally terrified by the incident, now we are fascinated. Wild chimps have been known to hurt and sometimes kill infants, but why did Zsabu do this?  Did such a little chimp do something to offend him? Perhaps Zsabu used the infant as a tool to punish its mother. We can only speculate, but apparently it works for Zsabu.  According to Innocent Mulenga who is the resident Primatologist, such a treatment has come to be known at Chimfunshi as “The Zsabu Special.” Innocent has observed this behaviour on several occasions.

            This incident can serve as a powerful reminder of the strength and unpredictability of chimpanzees, as well as the importance of appropriate care. Unfortunately, such care is not available in private homes or the entertainment sector. That is why Chimfunshi is such a valuable place: truly a sanctuary for the chimps who call it home.

Chimfunshi New Road

Our roads where so terrible. This actually started affecting the normal feeding times for the chimps. Our old vehicle that transports chimps feed 3 times a week couldn’t just cope up with the pressure. Last year August was the worst, our reliable vehicle broke down, we had to use ox carts to transport the food ( 12 km journey). This went on for 2 months. Luckly one donor gave us money for a new vehicle as well as grading the road so that our vehicles can last longer. This is why we consider this as ‘good news’.  A bad road network system affects a lot of things. 

What is Chimfunshi?

A lot of people think the word Chimfunshi comes from the word chimps, it doesn’t, it’s actually a local word meaning ‘a place that holds water’.

The sanctuary with a total area of 12,000 acres is located along the banks of the Kafue River. The area has got a number of flood plains plus ravines.

Chimfunshi was started in 1983 when a baby dying chimpanzee was brought to the Siddles farm. It is now home to over 120 chimps. 

Our main goal is:

·         Resocialization and Rehabilitation of Orphaned Primates, particularly Chimpanzees and,

·         Preservation of indigenous Flora and Fauna. 

As Chimfunshi we are committed to the long term care of these chimpanzees.

 The structure of Chimfunshi

Currently,Chimfunshi is divided into 2 main parts; the Orphanage and the Project Area (Trust Land).

  • Orphanage (18 chimps)
    • Chimpanzees that are brought to Chimfunshi are organized into family groups at the orphanage.
    • Now the chimps are organized into two groups, one with a fourteen acre outdoor enclosure while the other one is a bachelor enclosure.
  • The Project (100 chimps)

Established family groups are eventually moved to the Project, where they have huge outdoor enclosures to live in. Currently there are five chimpanzee communities living at the project.

Enclosure     Size (acres)     Population    1                     500                   23         

 2                    500                   47     

 3                      50                   13     

 4                      65                   13

Sandy +                                  04


Chimfunshi is not just a home to chimps, but also a home to Billy (hippopotamus), African Grey Parrots, vervet monkeys and other yellow baboons. The sanctuary has also been declared as an Important Bird Area (IBA).

All animals indigenous to Zambia are released to the wild once rehabilitated.

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