Manno, a chimpanzee, was born in a Damascus zoo, torn from his mother at a young age. Until now, he sat in a cage in northern Iraq, close to territory occupied by the Islamic State. The only time he was allowed out of his cage was when he was dressed up in clothes and used as a photo prop for paying zoo visitors.
An unprecedented event will take place on November 29 when the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq waves farewell to Manno, a 4-year old chimpanzee from Africa. He is being relocated to the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Kenya, a home for chimpanzees in need. This is serious cause for celebration as Ol Pejeta and its advocacy project PEGAS have been fighting for Manno’s release for over a year.
In 2013, he was smuggled out of war-torn Syria into northern Iraq. He was bought for $15,000 by a small private zoo close to Erbil, and quickly became the main attraction. The zoo owner did not follow the proper procedures for importing a CITES Appendix I animal, which rendered Manno’s import illegal. CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, has placed great apes under the most protective category, Appendix I, which means that no commercial trade is allowed.
Since 2013, visitors have been paying to have photos taken with the young chimpanzee, play with him and give him sugary sweets and sodas. The alien diet gives Manno constant diarrhea, but allowing visitors to feed him is a money earner.
Manno’s first glimmer of hope arrived in Christmas of 2014 in the form of Canadian volunteer Spencer Sekyer. Spencer came to Erbil to work at the zoo, and fell head over heels in love with Manno. He vowed to try and help him.
In 2015, Jane Goodall, the renowned great ape conservationist, went to speak near Spencer’s hometown of Edmonton, Alberta. He managed to get a quiet moment with her afterwards, and spoke of Manno’s plight. Jane promised to help, and got hold of Ol Pejeta Conservancy. At Sweetwaters, their doors are never closed to chimpanzees in need. The coordinator of the Ol Pejeta-initiated Project to End Great Ape Slavery (PEGAS) was called in and got to work.
It seemed like Mission Impossible – freeing a chimpanzee from a private zoo in northern Iraq with Islamic State fighting just 40 kilometers away. Working closely with Spencer, PEGAS started reaching out to regional contacts who could help. Time after time they were met with bureaucratic roadblocks, but they were relentless. Eventually, they got hold of the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, where Duhok zoo is located. He sympathized with Manno, and issued a decree that Manno should be freed, and relocated to Sweetwaters Sanctuary. Victory, at last.
Mr. Ahmed Oathman, an advisor to the Council of Ministers of the Kurdistan Regional Government, who was instrumental in implementing the prime minister’s decree, said, “Promoting wildlife conservation has long been a priority of the Kurdistan Regional Government, along with combating illegal trafficking of animals.” The release of Manno demonstrates that the KRG meant what it said.
Animals Lebanon, an animal welfare organization based in Beirut, arranged the relocation in collaboration with Ol Pejeta’s Project to End Great Ape Slavery. Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary, located in the shadow of Mt. Kenya, is part of the scenic Ol Pejeta Conservancy, an award-winning home to thousands of wild animals, including the last three northern white rhinos on Earth.
Manno should be happy on Sweetwaters, learning to live with other chimpanzees in freedom.