This might be the loneliest chimp in the world — and all he wants is a friend.
Ponso, a roughly 40-year-old chimp, was dumped on an abandoned island off the Ivory Coast more than 30 years ago after being used for medical testing. All of his companions have long since died, including his mate and their two children.
The social animal currently lives all alone on the tiny island, which has no source of food or water. As The Dodo previously reported, he relies on the kindness of a nearby villager, Germain, who’s dropped off bananas and bread for him ever since he was left to die.
But despite the unkindness he’s experienced at human hands, the gentle chimp welcomes visitors with open arms. He was recently visited by Estelle Raballand, director of the Chimpanzee Conservation Center, and couldn’t have been happier to see a friendly face.
He wrapped her in a huge hug — even appearing to laugh when she reached out to touch him.
He also enjoyed being tended to and fussed over by his human visitors.
Sadly, Ponso’s happy welcome throws into sharp relief the loneliness of the elderly chimp’s plight — as he spends his life trapped on the empty island, relying on strangers to supply his next meal.
While Ponso is alone on his little island, there are others like him. Ponso is one of dozens of chimps who were stranded on a string of abandoned islands after the New York Blood Center (NYBC) finished years of painful testing on them. As the islands had no natural sources of food or water, NYBC kept them alive for a few years by dropping off supplies and vaccinating them.
But while Ponso appears to have been forgotten years ago, and would have died if Germain hadn’t found him, the center announced last spring that it was cutting off funding to the other stranded chimps as well, effectively leaving them to starve to death.
The decision was met with widespread condemnation. At the time, Jane Goodall called the announcement “completely shocking and unacceptable.” Duke University primatologist Brian Hare told the New York Times, “Never, ever have I seen anything even remotely as disgusting as this.”
Since then, the surviving chimps — Ponso included — have been cared for by a coalition of animal welfare groups and generous members of the public. The chimps’ supporters have also fought to hold NYBC responsible for the animals it abandoned.
But while food and water are crucial to the chimps survival, sometimes nothing beats a friendly smile and gentle hand.