One of the draws of Ol Pejeta is the Sweetwaters chimpanzee sanctuary, the only place in Kenya where one can see these primates. Like the Ngamba Island sanctuary we visited in Uganda, Ol Pejeta hosts over forty orphaned chimps that had been rescued throughout Africa. Hunted for bushmeat or trapped for sale, chimpanzees are an endangered species, their survival further imperiled by human encroachment on their natural habitats.
Many of the chimps at Ol Pejeta had been abused throughout their captivity. The sanctuary has a photo gallery that chronicles the pitiable existence of these orphans prior to their rescue. Some were found crammed into tiny cages, others chained with massive padlocks around their necks. As if the pictures did not adequately convey their woes, the behavior of some of the newer arrivals belied their tortured past. Haunted by their memories, some of these chimps sulk alone, pulling out their own fur or chewing their own feces.
The sanctuary aims to provide lifelong refuge for the orphaned chimps in as natural an environment as possible. Inside the enclosure, the chimps inhabit a sizable enclave of savannah woodlands. They also have round-the-clock care that includes a full range of veterinary services, three daily feedings, and even contraception. Because the territory demarcated for their protection is limited, as are the resources needed to provide proper care, the sanctuary would not be able to support a constantly growing chimp population.
The females are given contraceptive implants to ensure that they do not reproduce. It turns out, however, that ape birth control is no more foolproof than its human counterpart. Named for her unexpected arrival, Ajabu (whose name means ‘surprise’ in Kiswahili) is so tiny that it’s hard to believe she was born inside the sanctuary four years ago.