Anthony Caere always knew he wanted to find a job where he could combine his two passions: flying airplanes and helping wildlife.
He found that calling in the jungles of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he works with the rangers of Virunga National Park to fly orphaned baby chimpanzees to safety.
The pilot has been evacuating animals from the park for the past seven years. He’s even helped set up a flight school to train others to complete medical evacuations and supply flights. But one of his greatest honors is flying orphaned baby chimps to safety.
Sadly, it’s not uncommon for the rangers to find orphaned chimps in the jungle. The endangered animals are hunted by poachers for meat, leaving their babies scared and alone in the wilderness. If the rangers don’t reach them in time, the little ones often die or are sold as pets for private, illegal zoos.
In 2016, Anthony transported his first baby chimp to Lwiro Primates, an animal sanctuary and chimpanzee orphanage. He quickly learned that the baby was much calmer and less stressed during the flight when he held them on his lap while flying.
Now, his TLC actually starts days before the flight. He spends time bonding with the babies, feeding them bottles and fruit, and gaining their trust.
“I never take them immediately to the plane, because I always avoid to put them in a cage,” he said. “I try to take them on my lap because flying in a plane, for a baby chimp, is very stressful.”
Once on board, the babies are curious about the lights, switches, and gadgets around them, but eventually they calm down. Most of the time, they actually end up sleeping through the whole flight!
One of Anthony’s recent passengers was Tongo, a baby who had been captured by traffickers and rescued by the rangers. On the day of his freedom flight, Tongo felt right at home in his rescuer’s arms thanks to all the kindness he’d been shown.
“It’s just like a normal human baby,” Anthony said. “They want to get close, they want to feel you, and then they are calm.”
Once they landed safely at Lwiro Primates, rescue worker Itsaso Vélez del Burgo greeted them on the tarmac to take over the care of little Tongo. He will now join about 100 other rescued chimps, who are all getting big and strong enough for their eventual release into the wild.
“He was very happy, and after two days he had already met his other two mates so he was happy to be there,” Anthony said. “They are a new family and the future is looking much better for them ’cause they have a very big chance to be released back into the wild.”
Caring people around the world are working hard every day to save endangered animals like Tongo. We are so grateful for their kindness and relentless effort!
Watch Tongo snuggle with Anthony on his freedom flight in the video below, and don’t forget to share this story.
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