Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary celebrates its 25-year anniversary

23 August 2023


As Ngamba Island celebrates 25 years of rescuing and rehabilitating chimpanzees in Uganda, Born Free’s Rescue & Care Officer Dr Andrea Donaldson looks back at their history, and what they have achieved.

Left: Chimpanzees in trees at Ngamba Island sanctuary. Right: Sara the rescued chimpanzee

Born Free has worked together with the Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservation Trust (CSWCT) from the very beginning, helping to create Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary back in 1998.  

Since its inception, Ngamba Island has rescued 58 chimpanzees from Uganda and the surrounding countries; today 52 individuals are living at the sanctuary, many having previously been kept as ‘pets’ in completely inadequate conditions or following confiscation from the illegal wildlife trade.

In 1998, Ngamba Island was founded as a chimpanzee sanctuary, but over the years it has grown, expanding its reach into activities aimed at the conversation of chimpanzees in the wild in Western Uganda, and education work with local communities in the Albertine Rift and around the sanctuary island. CSWCT provides training and alternative sources of income to communities like beekeeping, and mushroom growing. This has created a real sense of ownership and responsibility towards the conservation of wildlife amongst the communities involved.

Furthermore, CSWCT emphasises the significance of education in conservation. They conduct outreach programmes and workshops in schools to raise awareness among children about the importance of wildlife conservation, as well as the need to care for individuals. These workshops inspire and provoke change. For example, after attending one of the Trust’s educational sessions, a school-aged boy became passionate about protecting chimpanzees and their natural habitat. He started spreading awareness in his community, and with the support of his school, he initiated a small tree-planting project. His enthusiasm inspired other children and adults alike, creating a ripple effect of positive change in the community’s conservation efforts.

Chimpanzees are highly intelligent and social animals. They have incredibly strong and complex social bonds and individual personalities. Consequently, chimpanzee rehabilitation is a gradual and delicate process. This is especially true when a chimpanzee has had a particularly traumatic experience.

“Ngamba Island gives rescued chimpanzees a new start in life – once nursed back to health they are rehabilitated and introduced to other rescued chimpanzees on their expansive 100-acre rainforest island home.”

All of the rescued chimpanzees at Ngamba Island will have been forcibly removed from their mothers as infants and youngsters, and they often arrive on the island traumatised and malnourished. They are the lucky ones because many die before they are rescued. Ngamba Island gives rescued chimpanzees a new start in life – once nursed back to health they are rehabilitated and introduced to other rescued chimpanzees on their expansive 100-acre rainforest island home. Before the sanctuary was established, the forest was degraded, but since the chimpanzees’ arrival, the island has blossomed, and is now home to more than 150 species of birds, 50,000 fruit bats, monitor lizards and other wildlife.

The Born Free Foundation wishes to congratulate the Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservation Trust on their outstanding achievements over the last 25 years. We are proud of our association with the organisation and the continued support we are able to provide.

Dr Joshua Rukundo, Executive Director, CSWCT, said: “As Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary celebrates 25 years of captive chimpanzee welfare, wild chimpanzee conservation, education and awareness, we look back with pride on what we have been able to achieve in Uganda, contributing to the stabilization of wild chimpanzee populations, and look forward to a future, where we realize and promote the need for humans to co-exist in harmony with wildlife through community action, continued education and awareness and all can be possible by building strong partnerships for coexistence.”

Dame Virginia McKenna, Born Free’s Co-Founder, added: “What a milestone this is. I remember only too well the initial donation that actress Liz Hurley gave to Born Free that helped start it all and the incredible hard work of so many people over the following years that turned the dream into reality. One day I hope that the illegal trade in chimpanzees will end and that they will live in harmony with human communities across their range. Until that day arrives, Ngamba Island, Dr Joshua Rukundo and the wonderful care team have a vital, compassionate, and life-saving role to play.”