LWIRO (KTVU) - Video of a young orphaned chimpanzee named Mussa snuggling with a pilot on his flight to safety is raising awareness about the poaching of the endangered species.
A team from Lwiro Primates, along with pilot Anthony Caere, rescued 3-year-old Mussa from a village called Beni in North Kivu.
Lwiro Primates learned about Mussa through a photo that was circulating on the messaging app 'WhatsApp.' They learned Mussa was living at a man's home. In addition to the endangered chimpanzee, the man had other protected reptiles in his home. It's unclear if Mussa was a 'pet' or if the man was planning to sell the baby chimpanzee.
Lwiro Primates believes Mussa's mother was killed, since poachers are killing adults for bushmeat and taking the babies to sell. Lwiro Primates Technical Director Itsaso Velez del Burgo tells KTVU, "Mussa's family was certainly killed, maybe just the mum, but probably they killed several members of the family. Is not possible to take a baby from the arms of her/his mum without killing her, because as in humans, mothers will do anything possible to protect their offspring."
According to Lwiro Primates there is an illegal traffic of chimpanzees towards China and Middle East, where baby chimps can be sold for thousands of dollars.
When Mussa was rescued he was flown to his new home at the non-profit Lwiro Primates, which is located in a small village called Lwiro in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The pilot Anthony Caere wrote on his Facebook page, "This looks cute but is actually a sad story. He should be with his mum.. But happy we could give him a new good home!"
During the flight you can tell Caere and Mussa are bonding as the young chimp cuddles close in his lap. At one point Caere begins to groom Mussa as a way to provide comfort. Velez del Burgo tells KTVU, "(Caere) was grooming Mussa. It's the way chimps makes friends, (as) a social behavior. Anthony was doing it to keep Mussa quiet and to let him know he was a friend."
Lwiro Primates says Mussa will spend a quarantine period with four other babies, also orphaned due to poaching, before he can join one of our chimp groups.
Lwiro Primates takes care of 80 chimps and 100 monkeys of different species. "Our aim is to reintroduce this primates into the wild, but due the instability of the country this moment seems still a bit far. In between we do our best to the care of this victims of human greed."
Despite some intestinal parasites, Mussa is in pretty good health. He is laughing and playing which is a very good sign for orphaned chimps. Lwiro Primates adds that Mussa loves tomatoes.