Spencer Sekyer is travelling to Guinea-Bissau to help transport Simon the chimpanzee to an animal sanctuary.


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When Spencer Sekyer explained his latest mission to rescue a primate, he was on a layover in Casablanca en route to West Africa.

It’s only his latest because two years ago the Elk Island Public Schools teacher made headlines when he saved a chimpanzee in Iraq, an adventure soon to be chronicled in the book Saving Manno.

Now he’s using the last weeks of his summer vacation to help the rescue effort of Simon, a caged chimp in need of rescue in the nation of Guinea-Bissau.

“I said, you know what? I’ve done it before,” Sekyer recounted by phone. “I can go and see if I can help out.”

Sekyer is working in partnership with Pan African Sanctuary Alliance, a network of 23 sanctuaries in 13 African nations. PASA first became aware of Simon’s situation in March.

The next month, Sekyer reached out offering his assistance.

“I’m optimistic that it’ll happen at one point,” Sekyer said of Simon’s salvation. “If not now, then down the road.”

Although Simon’s owners are willing to give him up and he has a place at the Kenyan sanctuary Sweetwaters, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora makes any transport of endangered species like chimpanzees a herculean effort requiring multiple tests and permits.

“We’re waiting for the export permit,” said Gregg Tully, executive director of PASA. “Simon isn’t going to be able to leave until we get that permit and it’s been bogged down in the bureaucracy of the Guinea-Bissau government.”

Rescue operations “typically take months,” he said, and Simon’s situation is all too common across the continent.

“In some cases, these animals are being taken care of by people who know nothing about what their needs really are,” Tully said. Chimpanzees are often orphaned and raised in torturous isolation, he added.

In countries without a PASA partner, like Guinea-Bissau, volunteers must act as the eyes and ears for the organization’s rescue efforts — exactly what Sekyer will be doing.

On Sunday, Postmedia received an email update from Sekyer. He had found Simon in “sad conditions” and at least three more chimpanzees in need of rescue.

“We’re facing an uphill battle,” he said.

stcook@postmedia.com



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