Grand-Lahou (Ivory Coast) (AFP) – “Oooah! Oooah!” Screeching to see visitors on the forested “Chimpanzee Island” in Ivory Coast, Ponso is the last, lonely survivor of a colony of 20 apes who mysteriously died or vanished.
An effort is under way to keep Ponso alive and well in a west African country where the ape population has plummeted by 90 percent in just two decades.
Chimpanzee Island adjoins the village of Grand-Lahou in the Bandaman estuary, an outlying reach of tropical forest about 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the commercial capital, Abidjan.
Only Ponso remains of the group of chimpanzees relocated to the tiny island from Liberia in 1983 by a research laboratory for medical tests.
Since August 2015, the association Les Amis de Ponso (Friends of Ponso) has paid for the animal’s food and for a dedicated carer, Germain Djenemaya Koidja, according to a wooden signpost near the landing stage and the website sosponso.org.
Two years ago, Ponso suffered a traumatic loss when his female companion and two children all died of unknown causes, says Koidja, a retired farmer in his 60s.
Since then, the animal has been “the world’s loneliest chimp”, as SOS Ponso puts it.
– Part of the family –
Every morning, barefoot, Koidja pushes through the water lilies on a makeshift boat to carry food and medication to the island, which lies just a few metres (yards) offshore.
He is welcomed with cries and acrobatics by Ponso, an ape about a metre (three feet) tall leaping from one branch to the next.
“Ponso is like my child. I don’t want to see him go… I’m making a call to have someone send me another female,” says Koidja, whose family specialises in primates, from his father down to Junior, his 21-year-old son.
The small village community shares his determination to save Ponso, whom residents now consider to be part of the family.
The chimpanzee’s isolation has also moved Francoise Stephenson, the Franco-American owner of a hotel in Lahou who has become the leader of a rescue committee.
– ‘An Ivorian citizen’ –
“I have accepted the role of intermediary between well-wishers and Germain,” says Stephenson, who is in her 60s and has come to know Ponso well.
“During my last visit, we exchanged kisses and praise, he put his nails in my ears and then my nose,” Stephenson says. “I left the island with the impression that I was coming down from another planet.”
Ponso’s fate has been taken up by the new African Primatological Society (APS), which held its first congress this year to respond…