One man’s determination to improve the life of a little chimpanzee named Manno will not be soon forgotten, as evidenced by the few seconds of video showing their heartfelt reunion.
But the story spans many years.
It all started in 2014, when Spencer Sekyer traveled from Canada to Africa and the Middle East to do volunteer work. When he arrived in northern Iraq, he stumbled across a zoo. Inside a sad little cage was the individual who would impact the next few years of Sekyer’s life.
When Manno was not locked in this dilapidated cage, he was disguised and fed sweets that made him nauseous by people who wanted to take pictures with him. He was nothing but a prop to them, but Sekyer knew Manno deserved the freedom to lead a real life.
Manno had been brought to the private zoo after being stolen from the wild in Africa. The zoo bought it for $15,000.
When Sekyer returned to Alberta, Canada, he began the difficult task of trying, from a distance, to rescue the young chimpanzee from what was quickly becoming a war zone – ISIS was closing in on the territory. But Sekyer had made a promise to Manno and he intended to keep it.
Sekyer enlisted the help of famed primatologist Jane Goodall, whom he spoke to minutes after an event in Canada. With Goodall’s help, Manno began to have a glimmer of hope. The Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya got involved and started an effort to bring Manno back to Africa, to Kenya’s Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary, a perfect home for a chimpanzee like Manno.
Three years after Sekyer’s first encounter with Manno, the little chimpanzee was safely transported to the sanctuary. But when new animals arrive at a sanctuary, they must go through a period of quarantine to ensure they are healthy enough to be introduced to other rescued animals.
Luckily, Sekyer was there when Manno’s quarantine period ended to help him transition into his new home.
If there was any doubt as to whether Manno would remember this man or what he did for him, all uncertainties were quickly erased when the little chimpanzee saw Sekyer standing there with his arms outstretched.
The true mark of a successful rescue, however, would be whether Manno, after all he’s been through, would still be able to identify and bond with other chimps like him.
These concerns have also been erased.
“He was very scared, having never been in contact with chimpanzees before, so I entered his enclosure to help him settle in,” Sekyer explained.
When Manno and another chimpanzee started tickling each other, Sekyer knew it was time for Manno to move on and have the life he always deserved.
Sekyer will never forget the last hug Manno gave him. And thankfully, he will always have this video, to help him remember the genuine connection he made with this unlikely individual he first found in a cage in Iraq.
“When people ask me if Manno remembers me or why I saved him, I show them this video,” Sekyer says.