Anthony Caere is a man on a mission to save little orphaned chimps… one flight at a time!
Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa (24 October 2020) – It’s a story that captivated, and keeps captivating the world – little chimpanzees rescued from poachers by a pilot who flies the animals to safety!
The story of Anthony Caere first caught the attention of media in 2018, with Mussa, a baby chimpanzee who was rescued from poachers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who then served as co-pilot on the way to a primate rehabilitation sanctuary.
But the story is so much bigger than that.
Around 3,000 great apes – orangutans, gorillas and chimpanzees – are being killed or removed from their natural habitat each year, according to a UN report. The research also found that more than 22,000 apes had been either killed or smuggled between 2005 and 2011.
Adult chimpanzees are murdered for bushmeat, while the orphaned young are sold to zoos or as exotic pets. Others are used in the entertainment business such as in circuses or theme parks. A poacher may sell one baby chimpanzee for around 20-50 US dollars, but often the chimp ends up in the hands of a middleman, and the final price can be up to several thousand dollars.
And Anthony Caere is saving them… one at a time!
Caere is Belgian pilot who heads Virunga National Park’s Air Wing and serves as a “big brother” in the sky for its rangers. His duties include supporting rangers’ anti-poaching patrols, doing surveillance for wildlife censuses, inspecting poaching sites and carrying out medical evacuations.
When rangers find orphaned chimps, Caere flies them to a rehabilitation centre and sanctuary for nearly 200 orphaned chimpanzees and monkeys in Congo. The park serves as a safe place for orphaned primates to recover both physically and physiologically from the loss of their family.
During the flights, Caere refuses to put the primates in a cage. Instead, he gives them a seat on his lap.
“People ask me why I don’t put the chimps in a cage during a flight… a baby needs hugs and compassion instead of being locked up in a cage during a stressful flight,” he said.
“We take the time to gain his trust, to feed him. And when he feels comfortable, and he jumps on your arms, and he holds you, then it’s time to do the flight.”