Meet the Chimps of the Uganda Wildlife Education Center!    
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Welcome, cheerful viewers, to this edition of Animal World: Our Co-Inhabitants. Uganda is a splendid East African nation that is nicknamed “The Pearl of Africa.” The landlocked country can be described as a large plateau bordered by lakes, volcanic highlands, and mountain ranges such as the Rwenzori Mountains, one of the highest ranges in Africa.

Today we’ll visit the Uganda Wildlife Education Center (UWEC) near Lake Victoria. It is comprised of 72-hectares of beautiful land featuring Uganda’s three major ecosystems: wetland, savannah and forest. Approximately 500 different plant species can be viewed at the Center as well as some 400 indigenous land-animal species and 250 bird species.

Established in 1952, the Center has become one of the most respected biodiversity conservation education institutions in Africa. The Center is well-known for rescuing and successfully rehabilitating injured, orphaned, and illegally trafficked animals.

When Supreme Master Ching Hai learned of UWEC rescuing 140 smuggled African Grey Parrots, she contributed US$5,000 to support the Center’s efforts to rehabilitate these noble birds.

Today Jimmy Awany, the Center’s registrar and an animal caregiver will graciously introduce us to the sanctuary’s chimpanzees. Wild chimps in Uganda once lived happily in the nation’s vast forests, but over the years many trees have been felled for farming and other activities. Thus the animals have been driven from their natural homes and populations have tremendously declined. The primates are also in danger as they are illegally hunted for their meat.

Chimps in Uganda, and generally in the wild, they’re endangered. In Uganda the last census made, a population of about 4,500 was counted living in the wild.

The DNA of chimpanzees and humans is approximately 98% identical, and just as we do, chimps interact through kissing, embracing, patting each other on the back, touching hands and tickling.

The chimpanzees at the Center live together as a family.

There are about 14 and all of them, with the exception of only one, all of them have been rescued and some of them have been hand-raised. One was born here in our facility. So all these animals, you can imagine, they are coming from different backgrounds, but they have found themselves in here, they’ve accepted themselves. They live as one family. If one person is sick, the rest of the animals feel so bad. If somebody’s not eating, they feel so bad. If somebody’s injured, they become very concerned.

Chimpanzees are known for their high intelligence and ability to make and use tools for specific purposes. For example, they’ve been observed setting nuts between the roots of trees and cracking the shells open with rocks, using twigs to fan flies away, and also drinking “tea” by dipping chewed-up leaves in water.

I just wanted to demonstrate something to you. I want you to see how these guys, how very close (they are) to us in the way they do some of their things. Apparently the chimps can do almost anything except they don’t know how to swim, but they can always try from here. We have very often seen them using a stick to see how deep the water is. Normally, they do that and the food that falls in the moat, in the water, they’ll always use their brain (to try and get it) and that’s what I wanted you to see.

Aluma is the oldest chimpanzee at the Uganda Wildlife Education Center. The oldest is about 48 years now, that’s the oldest we have in here and I think he’s a record holder. He’s the oldest chimp in captivity in Uganda. I think he’s also the oldest chimp in East and Central Africa. So we have looked after him. He has seen a lot of things and sometimes he tries to even mentor the colleagues that are in the group. He doesn’t like fighting. He doesn’t want the young baby chimps to fight. So they are really good.

Come on. Come on. That’s Aluma. That guy there. Someone was keeping Aluma in the northwestern part of Uganda. They taught him so many things, the human way of life and he got imprinted to human beings, but they never met the nutritional requirements of Aluma. They basically gave Aluma poor food when he was still young, all the bad things. They tied him with a rope. He had scabies on the body. He had minor wounds and dental problems.

So when he was rescued and brought to Uganda Wildlife Education Center, he was put under rehabilitation at the quarantine unit for about three months. He was put under intensive care. The nutritional part was improved. But one thing that he has not forgotten, he still thinks he’s a human being.

Sometimes he loves to walk on two legs like human beings. He loves to eat posho (bread), this kind of African food. But due to good rehabilitation techniques that we have, he has returned to his normal life. He now knows how to eat leaves. He now knows how to pick things. So he’s a good guy now.

Let’s get to know some of the other members of the Center’s chimpanzee family.

Matoke is now the “in-charge.” He’s the boss. He’s the father. In many cases normally what they do is they give respect to someone who is big, someone who is old in the family. And you can only do something when he has given you a go ahead to do so. So that’s why everybody’s come but they’re fearing, “If I pick (up the banana), the big boss is going to know.” So they are allowing the big boss to pick (up the banana), so they’re peacefully watching him. You see, they have handed over the stick.

And that’s the grandpa. The grandpa is Zakayo. His name is Zakayo. He’s the oldest guy who handed over the affairs of running a family to Matoke. He said, “I’m now old enough. Since you are young, take charge of protecting the family.” But the wisdom of teaching people good manners, it’s him in charge. It’s him who teaches young ones to behave well.

And that guy is called “Shaka.” The name Shaka in African history refers to a great leader, Shaka Zulu in South Africa. So we gave his name because he’s born here. He was born in 2003 so he’s about eight years (old) now. But you can see how big he is already. Because of that good peace of mind, he’s grown so fast.

And the youngest, is called Achon. That’s the youngest. He’s about four years (old). He was hand-raised here; he was found abandoned. And the most intriguing part of our work here is, from the time when we rescue these animals, the time when we take them for rehabilitation in quarantine, then the time for integration, the time when we bring the new personality into the existing group, that’s the time. That’s the time you get to see the love.

What sort of food is provided to the chimps at the sanctuary?

We have a fridge, to put like fruits, and other stuff, frozen (food), for enrichment purposes. Here we cook porridge, it’s kind of a concoction of a lot of stuff, say it’s millet flour made with soya, you mix with milk, then you get that concoction what we call porridge. And it’s very, very nutritious for animals.

So here we have purely vegetarian, sugar cane, we have watermelons, we have pineapples, we got mangoes. We have bananas, we have oranges, we have carrots, we have onions. Then in here, bananas. We have papaya, This one is eggplant, and cucumber. Over there we have some bit of bok choy cabbage, and maize.

Even though they have undergone rehabilitation, the chimpanzee residents are kept at the Center rather than being reintroduced back into nature. Mr. Awany now explains why.

So with these guys you see we cannot release them in the wild, because we don’t have yet a proper place to release them. Secondly, living in captivity their life has greatly changed. It has greatly changed. We have influenced it. So it makes it a bit difficult. If we were to release them back, it would be like a kind of an experimental thing. That needs a big, big, big forest, so that’s a big challenge. And that’s why we always say, as a conservation education center, we keep telling people, “Leave the homes for wild animals to them. Let’s use the space we have in a more sustainable way so that these animals can also have space.”

Because when the place is protected, they are helping us protect. We know the value that trees give to human beings in terms of climate modification. But when they are there, we can also go and interact with them, see them in a form of tourism for people. But if we destroy everything, then (there is) no tourism, no interaction between the people and life will be meaningless without nature. So this is the perfect time that the world’s (people) and need to change their minds and refocus their energy into conservation that makes the planet green.

Jimmy Awany, our sincere appreciation goes to you and the rest of the staff at the Uganda Wildlife Education Center for your steadfast commitment to providing the very best living environment for the Center’s rescued animals. May UWEC successfully continue its fine program to acquaint the public with our chimpanzee friends so as to improve our relationship with our close, precious primate relatives.

With lots of love and gratitude for the noble work, Supreme Master Ching Hai is honoring the Uganda Wildlife Education Center with the Shining World Compassion Award along with an additional US$10,000.

For more information on the Uganda Wildlife Education Center, please visit

Thank you for joining us today on Animal World: Our Co-Inhabitants. May all animal families prosper under the rays of the glorious sun.
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July . 2020