Raised with a strong conservation ethic, Eugene Cussons was a South African software developer before he decided to follow his passion to help animals by founding Chimp Eden, a sanctuary for abused chimpanzees.
War-torn countries such as Angola, Sudan, and Mozambique are natural habitats for chimps. In these countries, the people are impoverished and capture chimps to sell on the black market, where they will retail for at least $1,400. Chimps are purchased as attractions for businesses, as pets, and for food; but some owners tire of them as they grow, and the chimps could end up put in small cages where they may be neglected and abused. Eugene rescues these chimps and takes them to Chimp Eden for rehabilitation with the hope of releasing them back into the wild.
Chimp Eden is notified about people selling or keeping chimps by the Jane Goodall Institute and the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance, which manages the 19 sanctuaries in Africa. Eugene convinces owners to give up the chimps voluntarily or gets the government involved in their release. He never pays for a chimpanzee, because it would create a market for them.
At Chimp Eden, newly rescued chimps are slowly introduced to other chimps to learn how to live together. Forty-four-year-old Jao, the sanctuary's oldest chimp, wasn't social at first, so Eugene put him in the infant enclosure and he became the alpha male, protecting the young ones. He taught Eugene how to ask for permission to enter the enclosure, and now takes Eugene on walks. One chimp, Cozi, never learned to climb, so Eugene became his surrogate mother and taught him. At Chimp Eden, these animals are able to learn how to be chimps again in a safe, loving environment.
For more information, check out "Escape to Chimp Eden" premiering Friday, February 8, at 9:30 p.m. ET on Animal Planet.