U.S. Ambassador Makes Chimpanzee Protection a Priority

YAOUNDE, Cameroon, June 6, 2005 (ENS) - Niels Marquardt, the U.S. Ambassador for the Republics of Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea, spent the Memorial Day weekend with his wife and two daughters and 38 chimpanzees in the remote Mbargue forest in eastern Cameroon - a 200 mile drive from the capital city, Yaoundé, where the Embassy is located.


IDA-Africa's Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center (Photo courtesy IDA-Africa)
The ambassador and his family were the guests of In Defense of Animals-Africa (IDA-Africa), a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving the last of Cameroon’s wild chimpanzees through education and conservation.

The Marquardt family visited the IDA-Africa's Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center, the first and only primate care facility of its kind in Cameroon, where they learned about the impact the illegal commercial bushmeat trade is having on Cameroon’s remaining wild chimpanzee population.

The commercial bushmeat trade is an international multibillion dollar black market that buys and sells meat from the forests, much of which derives from endangered and protected species.


A career diplomat, Ambassador Niels Marquardt has previously served in Germany, France, Thailand and Congo. Prior to joining the Foreign Service in 1980, Ambassador Marquardt served from 1977 to 1979 as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Rwanda. (Photo courtesy U.S. State Department)
Ambassador Marquardt said he places great importance on the protection of Cameroon's chimpanzees and other wildlife.

"Helping to protect endangered species in Cameroon, as well as assisting Cameroonians to safeguard the rainforests where the chimpanzees live, are top priorities for the U.S. Embassy in Cameroon," he said.

Dr. Sheri Speede, founder and director of IDA-Africa and the Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center, has a hometown connection with the ambassador in that they both spent time in Portland, Oregon.

Speede is a former owner of the Pacific Veterinary Hospital in Portland, Oregon, while Marquardt graduated from Lewis and Clark College in Portland in 1975.


IDA-Africa Director and veterinarian Dr. Sheri Speede with a rescued chimpanzee. (Photo courtesy IDA-Africa)
"We were extremely pleased to have hosted Ambassador Marquardt, his family and colleagues at our center," said Speede. "His genuine connection with the chimpanzees was touching and his ongoing interest and support for what we are trying to accomplish is very inspiring."

Founded in 1999, the sanctuary is designed to welcome animals that are rejected at other facilities due to their overpowering size, strength, and level of psychological damage.

The sanctuary's unique focus on adult primates was conceived when Speede befriended three psychologically abused chimpanzees outside a resort hotel, where they had been confined for 35 years in isolated cages.

IDA-Africa says, "Jacky, Pepe, and Becky's dramatic recovery from their years of deprivation and isolation can easily be seen as they explore a natural forest environment, groom and socialize with each other, and begin to form a family group - essential to all chimpanzees."

"Providing the best life possible for orphans of all ages at the Rescue Center is work that must continue," Speede says, "but our most far-reaching and difficult role in this country is to stop the wholesale slaughter of chimpanzees and gorillas in the forests."


Dr. Speede becomes a human tree for three baby chimpanzees at the rescue center. (Photo courtesy IDA-Africa)
"Chimpanzees, like gorillas, are large and relatively slow-moving, and therefore particularly vulnerable to commercial poachers with shotguns," she says. "Individuals and family groups, including the orphans who are pried from the corpses of their mothers to be sold as pets, suffer terribly as a result of this carnage. In addition, because chimpanzees and gorillas reproduce so slowly - only one baby every 4-5 years - their populations are being decimated by hunters. They will soon be extinct in Cameroon, and elsewhere, if patterns don't change."

A new conservation center located a short distance from the rescue center was funded by the U.S. Embassy and will host education programs for Cameroonians and eco-tourists.

"The role of the Sanaga-Yong Center is very important," the ambassador said. "After meeting the chimpanzees there, I feel more personally that the loss of this species from the world would be a very sad loss indeed."

"In the past few decades, European and Asian logging companies have built roads into what were previously untouched and inaccessible forests of Cameroon, opening up the wilderness to poachers," writes volunteer Sangamithra Iyer who worked at the Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center in 2003.

"Large logging crews hire commercial hunters to provide food for them, while logging trucks often serve as conduits to transport illegal bushmeat to other markets. Even after the logging companies leave, the clear-cut lanes remain, providing poachers easy access to now vulnerable habitats of wild apes," Iyer wrote. "If current trends continue, statistics indicate that we may lose our next of kin within the next few decades."

s Scientists estimate that, due in large part to the bushmeat trade, the remaining wild apes in Central Africa will be extinct within the next 15 to 50 years.

To read the journal entries of volunteers at the Sanada-Yong center, click here.

To visit the U.S. Embassy in Cameroon, click here.