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Meet the couple raising 34 orphaned chimpanzees

There is no family quite like this

We all know there’s no such thing as a ‘typical’ family and that no two are every truly alike, and that couldn’t be truer for Jenny and Jim Desmond and their family of 34 chimpanzees.

The husband and wife team are co-founders of Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue and Protection (LCRP), the country’s first and only sanctuary for orphaned chimps. Most of the youngsters in their care are victims of bush meat hunts which sees adults killed for food and babies sold in the illegal pet trade.

Jenny and Jim Desmond. Co-founders of Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue & Protection © LCRP
Jenny and Jim Desmond. Co-founders of Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue & Protection © LCRP

“Every one of the chimps has lost their mothers, minimum, and generally they will have also lost family members because whatever adults are in the group at the time of the hunt will be killed and any of the babies will be taken,” says Jenny.

She says all the chimps that come into their care arrive severely traumatised and injured.

The Desmonds have been involved with great ape and primate sanctuaries for almost 20 years, but what brought them to Liberia takes a little explaining.

The chimps that come into their care are often traumatised and require around-the-clock care © LCRP
The chimps that come into their care are often traumatised and require around-the-clock care © LCRP

In the 1970s, Liberia hosted an American medicial research project testing hepatitis vaccines on chimpanzees. After the 30-year study closed, with the chimps too used to human contact, there was no way to release the former subjects into the wild. They were rehomed on a group of small river islands and were given food and water daily.

But 10 years later, the funding to care for the chimpanzees ran out and it began to look like they would be left to starve. This is when a group of foundations lead by the Humane Society of the United States stepped in to raise money and awareness.

The Desmonds were brought over in July 2015 to takeover care of the 66 remaining chimpanzees. What was only meant to be a month of crisis management grew into something completely different.

Soon after they arrived, as word of the sanctuary spread, new chimps started coming into their care - 13 within the 18 months. Today, they look after 34 chimps, with 32 under the age of 6 years.

'Any animal in our house is part of our family' © LCRP
'Any animal in our house is part of our family' © LCRP

Jim says it’s important to simulate what the chimps’ lives would be like in the wild. That means 24-hour care until the age of 2.5 years like they would get with their mothers.

“They’re literally attached to you. They sleep with us, they sleep in the bed with us, they go with us everywhere,” says Jenny. “It’s pretty crazy, you have a chimp attached to you pretty much all the time, if not more than one.”

The Desmonds’ chimp family continues to grow. They are trying to relocate to new facilities in 40 hectares of forest giving the chimps an even more natural life.

“Any animal in our house is part of our family, regardless of the species. But with the chimps they’re so much like humans it really is like you have children,” says Jill.


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By Kara Segedin
Featured image by Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue and Protection

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