After months of preparation and collaboration, Ape Action Africa has become the first sanctuary in Cameroon to return a western lowland gorilla to the wild. The return of the adult male, named Freedom, was a vast undertaking; we’re incredibly proud of our team and hugely grateful to everyone who worked with us to achieve this conservation success.

Freedom’s story began on the morning of August 24th, 2019, when one of our caregivers alerted members of management to an escape after having seen an adult male gorilla outside one of the park’s forested enclosures. The sanctuary’s escape protocol was immediately put into action, and as the vet team prepared tranquilliser darts, staff performed headcounts of our four gorilla groups in an effort to identify the individual that had somehow managed to get out of their enclosure overnight. When it was reported back that each of the 25 rescued gorillas at the sanctuary had been seen by their respective caregivers, the escape team could only assume that either an error had been made with the count or that the escape was a false alarm. Arriving at the area of the reported gorilla sighting, they soon realised that neither was the case as an unknown adult gorilla repeatedly charged out of the trees and then back into the forest.

This was the first time that a situation of this kind had ever occurred in the sanctuary’s 23-year history, and the team had no way of knowing where the gorilla originated from. Estimated to be between fifteen and seventeen years of age, the bachelor would have left his natal group upon reaching sexual maturity in order to form his own family group. Travelling through the forest in search of females, the scent of the rescued gorillas in Ape Action Africa’s care had attracted the lone male to the largest of our gorilla enclosures.

Sadly, wide-scale deforestation means that he had now entered an area of Cameroon where wild gorillas no longer have a safe habitat. For the safety and security of the lone male, as well as that of the people living in and around the park, the team had no choice but to tranquillise the gorilla and secure him in one of our empty satellite cages. However, there was never a doubt in the mind of our Director, Rachel Hogan, OBE, that this magnificent male would go back to the forest, and so she named him Freedom.

 

Ape Action Africa's Controller, Mr Appolinaire Ndohoudou, and Director, Rachel Hogan, OBE, near the site where Freedom was first seen.

Image © Ape Action Africa

Rachel and the Ape Action Africa team immediately began searching for a safe return site, contacting relevant authorities, and sourcing funding to cover the huge costs of the operation. The organisation of Freedom’s return to the wild was far from easy, and until a suitable site could be secured, he would remain at the sanctuary.

Find out about how our team dealt with the challenges of caring for an unhabituated adult gorilla and the work that went into securing his return to the wild in part 2 of Freedom’s story.

To celebrate Freedom's return to the wild and support our vital frontline conservation work, please consider making a donation. Every contribution really does make a difference.

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Banner image - Freedom. Image © Passion Planet