Near Freetown we visit a sanctuary for chimpanzees.

Something to do on a hot Salone day.


“Each one represents a troop wiped out” says our guide,

I nod. That thought was in my mind.

Fetched from human families where they

Fascinated when young.

But those muscular arms, those teeth,

Those knowing eyes.

Raw power is no joke.


“We ask for them to be given. Never buy an ape.”

We’ve seen enough not to ask why.

We are guided: quarantine area,

Minimal contact, stage one, gradual introduction,

Stage two, larger enclosures,

Excitement and unease,

Rough games, nervous watchfulness.


“Each stage takes years,” I think of costs,

Risks, stories of break outs, death of a human.

Happier stories, too, mostly with sad endings,

Pinkie, blue-eyed albino who fell to her death.

And then the last stage, a vast enclosure.

Practically free, foraging in natural habitat.


“Babies born bind them together,”

Touching to see them as family here,

Bonds built over time, community,

Contentment, assurance in the slap a big hand lands

On an overexcited youth, confidence in the footfalls

As the group disappears into green undergrowth.


“Just the fence separates them from jungle,”

High and electric between them and national geography,

Painful history, complicated politics.

A sad irony, when it dawns on me,

That, so far, despite best intentions,

So far at least, no chimpanzee

Has returned to the freedom beyond.

Freetown 2017

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