By Gerald Tenywa
ZAKAYO, the 46-year-old chimpanzee, who has been leading 10 other chimpanzees at the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC), has handed over power.
â€œHe is too old. Matooke has replaced him as the head of the 11 chimps,â€ said Belinda Atim, the UWEC public relations officer. â€œSome chimps are aggressive and forceful like Matooke. Zakayo is peaceful and protective.â€
Matooke is 15 years old. The life expectancy of chimps in the wild is about 30 years and 60 years in captivity because they are provided with medical care and food.
Atim was speaking on Saturday at Zakayoâ€™s 46th birthday. He was showered with gifts, including bananas and a fruit cake. Children from Entebbe schools sang â€˜happy birthdayâ€™ songs for Zakayo.
Four years ago, UWEC (formerly the Entebbe Zoo) started celebrating Zakayoâ€™s birthday as part of a drive to highlight the plight of chimps.
However, the habitat of chimps in western Uganda is being lost to deforestation.
Also, some people poach young chimps for the pet trade and biomedical research outside Uganda. This, according to global and national laws, is prohibited. Over the years, chimps have been rescued from smugglers, including Zakayo who was rescued in 1976.
When President Yoweri Museveni took over power in 1986, the zoo was revamped and turned into a wildlife education centre. Some of the chimps were taken to Ngamba Island in Lake Victoria. The chimps residing at the wildlife education centre were provided with a house and Budongo island, measuring 1.44 hectares.
Jimmy Awany, an animal caregiver, said chimps are endangered according to the red data list of the World Conservation Union. The chimps are key in sustaining the countryâ€™s hospitality industry.