Walking through the forest on a dirt path, keeping our voices low, following Fred Babweteera and hanging on his every word to learn about this place, we saw them. Sitting a hundred yards in front of us, right on the path, two brothers: Zalu and Zed. My first wild chimpanzees!
With a group of eighteen wildlife enthusiasts from the Oakland Zoo, I had traveled to Uganda to have this amazing experience. We were in the Budongo Forest, a rare treat since this area is designated for research, not tourism. Fred and the Budongo Conservation Field Station (BCFS) staff were very generous hosts for us, because the Oakland Zoo sponsors their Snare Removal Program. Each September, through a lecture and silent auction, we raise over $8000 to keep these chimpanzees safe.
Zalu and Zed’s story explains why these chimpanzees need help from halfway around the world. Their mother, Zana, had both hands permanently deformed from trap injuries. This is not uncommon among the Sonso chimp group, since illegal snares set to catch wild pigs and duiker also catch, but rarely kill, chimpanzees. Zena died in 2007, leaving both boys orphans before they were really old enough to enter the male dominance hierarchy. Luckily, Zalu proved to be a good caretaker for younger Zed and the brothers are doing alright for themselves.
You can learn more about the snares set in Budongo Forest from our YouTube video!
To learn more about the Oakland Zoo’s support for BCFS, please visit www.oaklandzoo.org.
To learn more about Zalu, Zed, their neighbors and protectors, visit www.budongo.org.