Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

Toto and family

. Updated: 19 July 2012


We can hardly conceive the pain Toto has suffered. Snatched from his family, transported across the world and kept in isolation with a circus for over 20 years. At Chimfunshi in Zambia his loneliness has ended forever and each day his rehabilitation takes another step forward. ADI supporters ensured he got there - Thank you.

Toto and family have moved into an amazing fourteen acre enclosure.

This summer, the group was anaesthetised and moved to their new feeding house - a concrete building adjoining the enclosure where the chimps are fed several times a day.

Toto, Madonna and Sims were separated until Toto was fully conscious. Then for three days they looked out onto the fourteen acres of natural African bush with trees, termite mounds and dense vegetation, before the door was finally opened.

With obvious seniority, Toto emerged first and then, with Sims desperately clinging on to him, the group marched into the undergrowth and disappeared from view.

Until the next phase of their rehabilitation, this will be their home. Here they can play, groom, clamber into the trees - be chimpanzees.....

At regular intervals each day the Chimfunshi workers call them in for meal times. Our little family forms a train with Toto at the head, and Madonna and Sims clinging onto each other. Then, as one, the train marches up to be fed. They are given fresh fruit and vegetables, and Madonna and Sims receive bottles of milk.

Feeding is a popular time for the groups of school children who visit Chimfunshi to learn about wildlife and the environment. There are regular school trips to the Orphanage, and Chimfunshi also has an education centre and dormitories, so that children can stay whilst they learn about animals and the environment. Hundreds of Zambian schoolchildren visit the sanctuary every year. ADI has donated copies of our posters, leaflets and education packs to the centre.

Feeding time also allows for health checks on the animals. Madonna has a problem with her right eye. It has been checked by a vet who believes it is congenital and there appears little that can be done. Certainly it does not seem to curb Madonna’s boundless energy and enthusiasm.

ADI visits Toto
Almost a year after moving him to Zambia, the ADI team who had first filmed Toto with the circus in Santiago, returned to Chimfunshi to see how he is doing. On the afternoon of our arrival, he was in the feeding quarters having his last meal of the day. We recognised him instantly, and it was wonderful to see how well he looked and to see him with Sims and Madonna.

He ate his fresh vegetables and fruit and then used a fruit skin to scoop up water and drink - very elegantly. Actually it is something that many of the fastidious chimps do. The meal over, Toto lay on his back and thoroughly washed himself, reaching into the trough of water to scoop up handfuls and then carefully wash his arms and body. You cannot help but be struck by how human, and of course how chimp, he is.

The following morning, Sheila Siddle (co-founder of Chimfunshi) took us for a walk around his new enclosure - we were dying to see Toto properly amongst the trees. We peered in, but amongst the dense vegetation he was nowhere to be seen. Sheila would stop and call, but no Toto.

It was a strangely moving moment, although we were all keen to see Toto, we were elated. Toto really is now in a world of his own, he can simply disappear into the bush with Sims and Madonna. If he wants to come out, it is his choice. As we walked the entire perimeter of his large enclosure, with not a chimp in sight, it was a vivid reminder of how inadequate the facilities of zoos and circuses are.

We returned, an hour or two later, and as we resumed our walk along the fence, suddenly two little chimp faces peered down from a branch deep in the bush. It was Sims and Madonna. And then, silhouetted further along the branch was Toto. It was a magical moment.

We settled down by the fence to watch, and Madonna came bundling down and through the bush to see us.

Madonna is a firecracker and attention seeker. She would rush to the fence and then run away, pinning round and round before falling down in the long grass. Sims is more cautious, but undoubtedly playful, and followed Madonna down, eager to see who the visitors were.

Toto is more reserved. A life with the circus, being confined, prodded, stared and jeered at, has left him with no real desire to be watched by people. He is still gentle, affectionate and he is certainly responsive to his carers, but he’s had enough of people.

While we were being entertained by Madonna (or perhaps we were entertaining her) Toto clambered down from his perch. Seconds later he emerged from the bush and joined his family, it was an incredible sight.

Since his rescue Toto’s hair has thickened, although he will always have bald patches. He has lost weight, but retains something of a pot belly. He’s not really climbing trees properly yet, but he clambers up a termite mound and along the branches of a favourite tree, so that’s something to come.

We sat with them for a while, with Sims and Madonna playing and Toto watching over and occasionally joining in. Then one of the Chimfunshi workers called them in, “Totooo, Madonnaaa, Siiims", and Toto gathered himself up and began lumbering towards the feeding house. Madonna immediately grabbed onto the fur of his back and Sims onto her and Toto. The little train headed off to be fed.

Sometimes, Toto is quite casual about feeding time, much to the frustration of Sims. One day, we watched a hungry Sims hammer Toto’s considerable bulk with small fists, pull his hair, then stand on his hands and pound Toto with his feet.

Toto’s future
Life is in many ways idyllic for our small family but there are still challenges ahead if they are to be fully rehabilitated.

A four-wheel drive away from the main “Orphanage” is an area of Chimfunshi known as the “Project". Here there are four huge enclosures, two of five hundred acres and two of one hundred and fifty acres.

Chimpanzees that have successfully formed family groups at the orphanage are released here. The once tormented animals roam free, with some giving birth, and raising babies here. These are the biggest chimpanzee enclosures in the world.

We visited the new 150 acre enclosure, which is currently empty, but Sheila hopes it will become a home for Toto once he is fully integrated into a group.

This will mean adapting to life with almost fully grown chimpanzees, including almost adult males. If this is successful then the entire family will be released into the huge enclosure.

One potential family Sheila hopes to integrate Toto into is currently living in a ten acre enclosure next door to Toto and family, so they have had limited sight of each other. There are eleven chimps of different ages: Nick, Bobby, Julie, Sinkie, Cambo, Commando, Chiffon, Berta, Miracle, Kathy and Val.

First, Toto, Madonna and Sims will meet the adolescents in the group and we will be reporting on these first steps in the next issue of the magazine.

The operation to rescue Toto and relocate him to Zambia needed people to come together on three continents, in order to put right a terrible wrong. Special thanks must go to our supporters who made all of this possible with their donations. Importantly, this rescue wasn’t just about Toto - it was about opening people’s eyes to the suffering of circus animals.

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