An incredible journey for Toto the tragic circus chimp ended in joy on 6 September 2003 when, for the first time in over 20 years, Toto shared his first embrace with another chimpanzee. This moving moment capped a remarkable rescue mission by Animal Defenders International which saw Toto seized from a circus in Chile, and transported 7,000 miles to the world-renowned chimpanzee sanctuary, Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage in Northern Zambia. It is a story made possible by the commitment of individuals and organisations on three continents, all working together to do the right thing for an animal who had suffered so much at the hands of mankind.
TOTO AND THE CIRCUS:
27-year old Toto was snatched from the wild in Africa as a baby. His terrible suffering when wrenched from his family, who were probably killed in the process, can barely be imagined. Aged just 2-3 years old, Toto is believed to have been purchased in the USA twenty-four years ago by Chile’s Circus Konig, along with three other baby chimpanzees. The other three died, leaving Toto alone with the circus for at least twenty years.
Toto was chained by the neck, and his act involved dressing up in human clothes, smoking cigarettes and drinking tea. This intelligent member of a species which shares 98% of our genetic makeup, with the intelligence of a 5-6 year old human child, was stripped of the companionship of his extended family, of his destiny in the wild, and was forced to live in isolation, simply to amuse people. He lived in a tiny wooden packing crate little more than a metre wide, with bars on the front. Toto’s only comfort during cold days and nights was to huddle beneath a small blanket; he slept surrounded by empty plastic bottles and sweet wrappers. This was how Animal Defenders International (ADI) first encountered Toto.
In November, 2002, ADI directors Jan Creamer and Tim Phillips were in Chile for the Conference of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Significantly, ADI was lobbying for new rules on the cross-border movements of live animal exhibitions - primarily animal circuses. The ADI campaign for strict “animal passports” had been instigated in 1996, when we had successfully seized every animal with the Akef Egyptian Circus in Mozambique, breaking what was believed to be a front for animal trafficking. As the circus had passed through many countries in Africa, it had gained or discarded a range of animals including chimpanzees, snakes, and African grey parrots. ADI followed up with a campaign at CITES for stricter controls, and in Chile in 2002 most of these proposals were adopted.
The campaign was reinforced with an 18-month undercover investigation into the abuse of animals in circuses, released in 1998. This attracted worldwide attention when top performing animal trainer Mary Chipperfield was captured on video beating a baby chimpanzee, while her husband and elephant handler were captured beating elephants. All three were convicted of cruelty.
It was against this backdrop that on the first day of the Conference, ADI Chile representative César Sánchez took the ADI team to see a CITES-Appendix I-listed animal living in a crate in a circus. His name was Toto. The ADI team resolved to obtain video and photographic evidence in order to secure Toto’s release.
The first glimpse of Toto was in the back of a truck; he was underneath a dirty blanket, inside a small packing crate. Jan Creamer, Chief Executive of ADI, noted: “Before the show, he was allowed out of his box and led by a chain around his neck; he climbed up onto the roof of the truck, gazed into the distance at the Andes, and took deep breaths as the breeze ruffled his fur. You could almost sense, even after being confined for so long, his desire for freedom. Despite being a huge animal he was nervous, and appeared afraid of a sudden noise.”
WORKING TO SAVE TOTO:
ADI returned to the CITES conference, wrote letters and issued statements, and met with the Chilean CITES authorities and the relevant government department, SAG. The story was covered by the UK’s Sunday Express newspaper, noting that just 15 minutes from the world’s largest gathering of governments discussing species preservation, a member of one of the world’s endangered species was living in appalling conditions in a miserable travelling show.
Coincidentally, the ADI team was already in discussion with TV journalist Carola Fuentes, of Chile’s “Contacto” programme about the use of animals in circuses and ADI’s undercover footage; Contacto had also taken video of Toto for the programme. ADI and Contacto exchanged video tapes, and resolved to collaborate on any prosecution and rescue. Subsequently, Contacto and ADI submitted evidence to the ministry, SAG, for use in the prosecution of Toto’s owner.
Another key factor in the rescue was finding suitable accommodation for Toto, should the prosecution be successful. Luckily for Toto, ADI had previously funded the rescue of some South American monkeys at the Centro de Rescate y Rehabilitación de Primates in Peñaflor, just outside of Santiago. We therefore met with Centro de Rescate’s Elba Muñoz, who already knew of Toto’s plight and was willing to take him provided that special accommodation could be built, and his care and relocation to a more suitable long-term home could be organised and paid for. ADI and the primate rescue centre formed a partnership to rescue Toto.
SAG already had a file on Toto; there had been several complaints about Toto’s treatment in the circus over the years. There had even been a previous attempt to seize him in 1996 over lack of proper documentation, however this failed when government officials were driven away by the circus workers and the circus fled to Bolivia. There had since been further complaints, but no action had been possible. ADI and the primate rescue centre were determined that this would not happen again.
SAG was concerned that facilities to care for Toto must be ready for use as soon as needed, and reassurances had to be made about arrangements for his transportation to a more suitable home. ADI therefore guaranteed all costs for a temporary enclosure, food, care and veterinary costs, as well as costs and organisation of transport to a new home in Africa. Everything was in place. We were ready.
ADI and Contacto also agreed to provide SAG with video and photographic evidence for the prosecution. However, as the case drew to a conclusion and even before construction of Toto’s new enclosure was finished the circus disappeared with him. Nevertheless SAG secured a conviction, together with a direction from the judge that legal possession of Toto should pass to ADI, with the purpose that he be returned to a suitable home in Africa.
As soon as Circus Konig reappeared, ADI and Centro de Rescate y Rehabilitación de Primates would be ready, no matter how long it took. In fact it was less than three months before the circus reappeared.
In late January 2003, the ADI London office was told that the circus had been sighted in Pichilemu, some 3 hours from Santiago. Within 24 hours, an ADI Field Officer was en route to the circus to confirm Toto was present, and liaise with Contacto, SAG, the police, and the primate centre. We were determined that the circus would not slip away again, and having confirmed Toto’s presence, the circus was trailed by our Field Officer and the Contacto journalists from Pichilemu to Lar Pablacion near Santa Cruz, in the 6th Region of Chile. It was here that Toto’s life with the circus came to an end.
At 12.30pm, Wednesday 29 January, ADI, Contacto, SAG and the police arrived at the circus. The lions roared in the background, as the circus workers shouted and protested their innocence, but the confiscation proceeded. Toto was lifted onto a lorry in the cage in which he has spent almost his whole life, and the team left behind the commotion. Toto remained calm, not realising what a turn his life was taking. He was friendly, drank from a bottle of water, and even held the hand of our Field Officer.
Three hours later, at the Centro de Rescate y Rehabilitación de Primates, Toto was sedated, given a thorough veterinary examination, and blood samples taken. He was generally in good health, but was flabby, with no muscle tone. He had cigarette burns about his body. His teeth were in extremely poor condition, the canine teeth had been extracted, other teeth were damaged, and his gums were badly infected. He had been castrated.
After examination, Toto was carried to his new sleeping quarters. He gradually woke up, and began playing with the wood shavings on the floor. He had more space to move around than he had experienced for at least 20 years. That night he went to sleep in a hammock, another new luxury. The next morning we could see his joy for life, as he lay swinging in his hammock, his legs in the air.
Jan Creamer noted: “Toto’s new home is a huge improvement, but it is only temporary, he needs more space and ideally the companionship of his own species, something which has been denied to him for so long. Toto was snatched from the wild over twenty years ago; we would like to send him back to something as close to that as possible.”
Everyone’s hopes for Toto became a reality when Sheila Siddle of the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage in Zambia was so moved by his terrible story, that she agreed to provide him with a secure home for the rest of his life. Chimfunshi is the ideal location for Toto since it has hundreds of acres of natural African vegetation, and has vast experience with orphaned, and damaged chimps. It is one of the very few places in the world (if not the only one) where Toto has a chance of being integrated with a family group of his own species. Being a 27 year old castrated male, there are few options open to him. Toto may have another 30 years ahead of him, so we appreciate what a huge commitment Chimfunshi has made to Toto.
Meanwhile at the primate centre in Chile, after a period of acclimatisation, Toto was allowed into his outdoor enclosure. Almost grinning with excitement, he opened the door of his dormitory and explored the enclosure; testing the bench, swings, the shrubbery, and then climbing as high as he could. Indeed, Toto was so excited with the new experience that he could not be coaxed back into his dormitory; so the volunteers slept next to his enclosure to watch Toto whilst he built his first nest beneath the stars.
In line with our commitment in November 2003, ADI provided £100 per week to Centro de Rescate y Rehabilitación de Primates for Toto’s food and care, which allowed Toto to enjoy a wonderful diet of fresh fruit including his favourite - mango! In addition, we funded security fencing, a mobile phone, and all veterinary costs. The total cost for his time in the rescue centre came to almost £11,000. This was only possible thanks to the generosity of ADI supporters, who dug deep into their pockets to save Toto’s life, and raise the issue of animal suffering in Chile. In addition to this, our sister group the National Anti-Vivisection Society (for whom ADI undertakes international work) contributed almost £4,500 for facilities at the centre for rescued laboratory monkeys. These donations will make a lasting impact for animals in Chile.
In May 2003, Toto underwent three dental operations at Santiago Zoo; the vet reported that he could have died from the infection had he not been treated. The operations were a success and Toto recovered well.
Whilst Toto’s recuperation progressed, the work to obtain import and export permits, veterinary permits, and arrange travel for the long journey from Chile to Zambia continued. ADI commissioned the construction of a special crate for the journey at a cost of over £1,600 but as you can imagine there was no question of compromising Toto’s welfare. Disappointingly, an untrue story was circulated in the Chile media (which circulated worldwide), that all costs for the move were being met by a large donor. As a result donations for the project dropped, and discounted air fares were lost, along with some of our media opportunities for the issue of animals in circuses and Toto’s story.
Subsequently, careful negotiations secured the support (and some funding) of DHL Express in Santiago. The DHL Express offices in Chile, South Africa, and Zambia threw themselves into the effort to get Toto home with tremendous vigor. Our special thanks go to María del Sol Armada Pérez in Santiago for her tireless determination, and to Tony Kotze in Johannesburg for excellent organisation, and to James Kinnear in Zambia (who insisted that he accompany Toto all the way to Chimfunshi to ensure safe delivery).
And so it was on the late afternoon of 1 September 2003, preparation for Toto’s last journey began. Toto was sedated and carried to his crate which was already loaded in the truck. Nothing had been left to chance. Toto was loaded to sleep on the truck overnight, in case he reacted to being in a small cage. DHL express had already staged a “dry run” of the crate to the airport to ensure that everything went smoothly. The ADI team stayed overnight at the sanctuary; the volunteers defied the cold Chilean night, and kept vigil by his crate. Only Toto slept soundly that night.
At 3am on Tuesday 2 September, the group set out for Toto’s last great journey, making our way slowly to Santiago airport, and Africa. 7,000 miles to go, to be with his own kind again. The convoy was met at Santiago airport by swarms of media. Toto was now fully awake so after a drink and final checks and photos, his crate was closed, strapped down, and set for loading.onto the 07.30 a.m. Lan Chile flight to Sao Paulo, Brazil.
To add last minute drama, the circus had launched a last-ditch legal appeal to prevent Toto from leaving the country. However the final hearing had been set for 9am on Tuesday morning - an hour and a half after we had already left the country. The judge simply closed the case.
We touched down in Sao Paulo, Brazil, just after noon, for a six-hour stopover before our next flight to Johannesburg, South Africa. The Brazilian customs authorities had proved unco-operative, refusing any access to Toto during his sojourn in their country. They had even threatened to refuse Toto entry to their customs hall altogether, if we pursued our requests for access. His crate looked vulnerable as it sat out in the sun on the airfield. Fortunately, the airline showed great common sense and allowed Toto to be given his glucose/saline drinks prior to entering the customs hall; he was very thirsty and took two whole litres of fluid. The drink was tested on ADI Chief Executive Jan Creamer who pronounced it “strawberry flavoured and rather nice".
At 6.15pm on Tuesday 2 September, with the sun setting over Brazil, Toto was carefully loaded onto the flight for Johannesburg. The airline cargo crew ensured that everything went smoothly, and briefed the Captain about his VIP guest in the cargo hold.
At 7.30 a.m. Wednesday 3 September, Toto landed in Johannesburg for a 30-hour stopover before travelling on to Lusaka, Zambia. Again, his crate looked vulnerable as it stood amongst the other cargo being unloaded; it was difficult to believe that there was a live individual inside. It drew into sharp focus the difficulties of live animal transport, and how easily animals can die in transit, if they do not receive proper attention.
DHL Express Johannesburg had arranged a quiet corner in the cargo hall where Toto could have his drinks, food, and be cleaned out - critical on such a long stopover. Toto had been asleep, but jumped up to see us, grinning and pushing his fingers through the cage bars to touch us as soon as the crate was open. He was very thirsty again, and took a further three litres of glucose/salt solution, together with some fresh green vegetables and fruit, purchased especially for him by the DHL catering manager. Again, there was great media interest in Toto’s story, which was featured on morning TV, in major newspapers, and on radio.
The next day, 4 September, the ADI team split into two groups; one group left in the morning for Lusaka, to prepare in advance. Toto and one of our party followed on a cargo flight, landing at Lusaka airport at approximately 7.45 p.m. Again there was huge interest in Toto’s story; the crowds of media at the airport resembled the arrival of a pop star, rather than a chimp. After more fluids and food, Toto settled down in his crate again and was loaded onto a truck for the final leg of his epic journey to his permanent home. The rest of the team followed in a 4x4. Stopping each hour, it was to take us nearly 12 hours to get to Chimfunshi, in the far north of Zambia. Finally, at about 8 a.m. on Friday 5 September, Toto arrived at his new home at the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage, nr. Chingola, Zambia.
TOUCHING DOWN IN PARADISE - TOTO ARRIVES IN CHIMFUNSHI
As mentioned earlier, Chimfunshi is one of the largest sanctuaries of its kind the world, with rescued chimps from across the globe - from pet trade smugglers, circuses, and orphans from poaching. Toto is their 100th chimp, and despite his advanced age had been allowed to join the sanctuary because of his special circumstances. Toto is a very lucky chimp indeed (and such a survivor!)
Without the aid of a forklift truck, Toto’s crate was unloaded with great care and ingenuity by Dave and Sheila Siddle and the Chimfunshi workers, as the resident chimpanzees became excited by the new arrival and rushed to the fences, calling.
A very excited Toto rushed out of his crate into his quarantine enclosure, and to everyone’s delight, completely ignored his human rescuers and raced over to meet something far more interesting - another chimpanzee. This is Madonna, a tiny, five year old chimp who had been poached and taken to Qatar for the pet trade. She was confiscated and ended up in a tiny cage at Doha Zoo, similar in size to Toto’s circus crate, before being rescued by Chimfunshi. Toto immediately held her hand through the wire of the cage, his first contact with another chimp for at least 20 years. Toto and Madonna spent the remainder of the day making play faces and laughing as they ran up and down the fence dividing them. In the evening, Toto made his first chimpanzee call in over 20 years, in response to the calls of the other chimpanzees. That night, he settled down in his sleeping quarters, looking curious but a little mystified by his new surroundings.
At 5.30 am the next day, the ADI team rushed to Toto’s enclosure to see how he was doing. He was pleased to see someone, but appeared a little lonely. However as the morning progressed we saw how happy he was with Madonna, continuing to hold her hand, and speak to her. Sheila Siddle had been observing him closely and decided that Toto’s gentleness would make him a good friend for Madonna. Since both chimps were in quarantine, and they appeared keen to spend time together, Sheila decided, there was no reason to continue to prevent them from proper communication. Preparations were quickly made with the workers and so with baited breath we watched as the connecting door between the two enclosures was slowly opened. With just a few inches open, Madonna was already excitedly pushing her head, then a hand, through the doorway. Toto was excitedly jumping up and down, grinning and calling to her; with no sign of aggression, the door was opened fully and Madonna sprang through and raced to Toto. He threw his arms open to her and they embraced, Madonna’s tiny arms wrapped around Toto’s large body, her head buried in his chest. They remained like this for several minutes. And so, Toto received his first hug from a chimpanzee for more than 20 years. The pair then scampered around the enclosure playing, cuddling, tickling; Toto even shared his favourite blanket with Madonna.
It was the most touching scene that many of us had ever seen; these two intelligent, emotional creatures whose lives had been torn apart by mankind were now brought together with their own kind once more. The great wrong which had been done to Toto by human beings was now put right. Toto’s new life has begun.
The operation to rescue Toto and relocate him to Zambia needed people to come together across four different countries, on three continents, in order to put right a terrible wrong. Toto’s story has opened the eyes of people all over the world to the suffering of circus animals. Our thanks go to the Chilean ministry, SAG, to the Centro de Rescate y Rehabilitación de Primates; and to DHL Express in Chile, South Africa and Zambia - not just for their time and effort but also the considerable donation of services. A huge, huge thank you to Sheila Siddle and Chimfunshi, who have provided Toto with a secure and happy future and made an enormous commitment to him, for perhaps as long as 30 years. Finally and most importantly, our grateful thanks to the individual supporters of ADI who made all of this possible with your donations - you have saved Toto’s life, as well as raising the issue of all of the other Totos left behind. Your support for our work is changing the way people in Chile think about animal circuses. Toto and Madonna thank you, too.