After months of preparation, Ape Action Africa was ready to return adult male gorilla Freedom to the wild. 

As evening approached on the day before the return, Freedom was tranquillised so that he could be moved into his specially constructed transport cage. Sedating any animal carries a certain level of risk, so while everyone made final preparations, the vet team, including Twycross Zoo's Head of Life Sciences, Dr. Matyas Liptovszky, remained with Freedom, carefully monitoring his condition and waiting for him to come round from sedation. 

Dr. Matyas Liptovszky and Mr. Appolinaire Ndohoudou tranquillise Freedom in preparation for his journey back to the wild. 

Image © Passion Planet

At around 9.30 pm, Freedom was conscious and the vets gave the go-ahead for this landmark journey to begin. The three-vehicle convoy set off for the return site led by support staff who would control the speed of the journey. The lorry carrying Freedom’s transport cage followed with the vet team close behind. Our Director, Rachel Hogan, and Mr. Appolinaire Ndohoudou, Ape Action Africa’s Controller and one of Freedom’s caregivers, spent the entire trip in the rear of the lorry monitoring the condition of the gorilla. While the journey was exhausting for the team, Freedom fortunately slept until around 3 am, when he woke, began beating his chest and made contented rumbling noises as he ate the leaves in his cage. 

Freedom sleeps in his transport cage. Image © Ape Action Africa / Alex Benitez

Six hours later the convoy finally arrived at the return site where other members of Ape Action Africa were waiting alongside representatives from local authorities and communities. After an hour of rest for the team and time for Freedom to settle, the gorilla was once again sedated ready for the final leg of his journey. The team now had the challenging job of transporting Freedom’s cage across a river. 

Transporting Freedom across the river. Image © Ape Action Africa

As Freedom slept, 12 men loaded the transport cage onto a small boat. The porters canoed across the river and, after a thankfully incident-free crossing, received Freedom on the other side. They then once again carried the cage containing the 135kg gorilla, who was now awake, to the final return spot. With the cage in position, all that remained was to open the door. 

Carrying Freedom to the final return site. Image © Passion Planet

Since it was impossible to predict exactly how Freedom would react once the door to the cage was opened, everyone except the core Ape Action Africa team crossed back to the safety of the other side of the river. The vet team conducted final checks to confirm that Freedom was fully awake, and Rachel and Appolinaire removed the locks on the cage, leaving one final safety padlock in place. After moving several metres back to where the rest of the team were waiting, Rachel first gave the go-ahead for the safety rope to be pulled, removing the final lock from the cage. She then gave the final go-ahead for the second rope to be pulled, which would open the door of the cage. 

Rachel Hogan and Mr. Appolinaire Ndohoudou ready to pull the ropes to open Freedom's cage. Image © Passion Planet

As soon as the door opened, Freedom bolted directly towards the trees, and though he was quickly out of sight, the sound of his feet pounding on the forest floor could be clearly heard as he went deeper into the forest, back to his natural habitat and back to the wild. 

Freedom returns to the forest. Image © Passion Planet

While most of the group then headed back to the sanctuary, exhausted but thrilled by the success of the return, Rachel, Appolinaire and a small team from Ape Action Africa prepared to camp on the other side of the river. For Freedom’s safety they ensured that nobody attempted to cross the river to track him into the forest, and at first light on the following day, they canoed back to the return spot and trekked the surrounding forest. Fortunately, there was no trace of the gorilla. Freedom had returned to the wild. 

Ape Action Africa would like to thank everyone whose cooperation and support allowed Freedom’s return to the wild to happen. We would particularly like to thank the following:

His Excellency the Minister of Forestry and Wildlife

Dr. Sharon Redrobe, OBE, CEO of Twycross Zoo

Dr. Matyas Liptovszky, Head of Life Sciences at Twycross Zoo

Mr. Eran Moas

The Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA)

The delegation from the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife

Twycross Zoo

The Major of the return area

The Suprefet of the return area

The communities of the return area

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

Donate

USA Donors

If you missed the earlier parts of Freedom's story, you can catch up on how he arrived at the sanctuary in part 1, and read about the challenges our team faced when caring for Freedom and organising his return in part 2.

Banner image - Rachel Hogan and Mr. Appolinaire Ndohoudou, jubilant after Freedom's return to the wild. Image © Passion Planet