World News

Cameroon sanctuary for rescued apes threatened by COVID-19

LIMBE, Cameroon (Reuters) - Each morning, Malaika, an 18-year-old Mandrill monkey in western Cameroon with thick black fur and a distinctive red and blue snout, gets a vitamin to boost her immune system against possible exposure to the coronavirus.

But the threat posed by the virus to Malaika, who was rescued by the Limbe Wildlife Centre 15 years ago when someone tried to sell her as a pet, goes well beyond actual infection.

The centre, home to hundreds of gorillas, chimpanzees and other primates, has seen half its revenues evaporate in recent months with park visits cancelled and cash-strapped donors in the U.S. and Europe freezing their contributions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Without a resumption of funding within the next three months, the centre, a partnership between the Cameroonian government and an international foundation, could be forced to close its doors, said Guillaume Le Flohic, the park manager.

“The animal food - we have to raise the money for that. If we don’t have the money we cannot pay for the food,” he said, adding that the centre has seen its expenses balloon because of the need for bio-safety measures.

Cameroon has recorded more than 1,600 cases of COVID-19 in central Africa’s largest outbreak.

Similar financial pressures are being felt by wildlife reserves and conservancies across Africa, where money from tourism and foreign donations typically bankrolls efforts to protect the continent’s most endangered animals from poachers and habitat loss.

Besides vulnerable primates like Mandrills, the Limbe centre rescues dozens of African gray parrots, one of the world’s most trafficked animals, each year.

Le Flohic said he did not know what would happen to the animals if the park cannot come up with the more than $15,000 it needs for monthly operating expenses.

“All our activity and the reason why we are working here, we will have to put that on hold and that is really not a situation I want to be in, but that is the situation we may face,” he said.

Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Alexandra Hudson