Willy is an extraordinary member of our staff. He really, really, really understands chimpanzees.- Dr. Jane Goodall
For many people, their work day may start by checking emails or saying hello to colleagues – but for Willy, it would start by greeting and feeding the eager, happy faces of the rescued chimpanzees in JGI’s Tchimpounga sanctuary. Before starting at Tchimpounga as a caretaker, Willy was a fisherman. He would say his work with JGI gave him a “new perspective” on the fantastic qualities and abundance of nature all around him, and the importance of conserving the natural heritage of his country, in the Republic of Congo. Though every one of the staff members at the Jane Goodall Institute demonstrates a unique sense of compassion, Willy exemplified this every day with the chimpanzees and his peers.
Willy prided himself in truly building relationships with the chimpanzees at Tchimpounga, emphasizing kindness, respect and gentleness. He took the time to truly understand their hierarchies and needs to deliver the best care. As many of the rescued chimpanzees have lived through trauma, and each have specialized needs and personalities, Willy took this aspect of his job very seriously. As we have learned through Dr. Goodall’ and JGI’s enduring research, for the social beings that chimpanzees are, this level of patience and understanding is tantamount to their recovery.
He also took the “triangle approach” of Tchimpounga sanctuary to heart – the idea that the sanctuary operates in a way that facilitates rescue and rehabilitation as well as tackling the threats that contribute to the problem. When asked about issues like poaching, or the poverty that contributes to illegal hunting or capturing of chimpanzees, Willy was direct about how his work and the sanctuary are essential solutions. His own story was example enough of this, as his place on staff allowed greater income and health insurance for him and his family. He would also candidly discuss how the economic benefits of the sanctuary, like buying fruit and other resources from local people, are immensely helpful components of the work. But above all else, Willy loved the chimpanzees and connected with them on a very sincere and profound level.
If someone kills a chimpanzee, it is like they kill me. Me as a JGI caregiver, I would never allow it. – Willy
The world can be filled with apathy, and as Dr. Goodall has remarked, that is indeed the greatest danger to our future. Willy, however, was a breath of hope and inspired everyone around him, including the chimpanzees, to act with empathy and good will. His part of our work, though only one piece, elevated the whole of our efforts to protect and care for chimpanzees.
We mourn the loss of Willy, whom we remember in fondness and respect for all he gave and all he was. We say in sadness that we will miss Willy tremendously, and yet in gladness say that he forever changed our work and the lives of Tchimpounga’s chimpanzees for the better.
You can support the work of the staff of Tchimpounga and the rescue and rehabilitation of chimpanzees by becoming a Chimp Guardian today here.
The Jane Goodall Institute is a global community conservation organization that advances the vision and work of Dr. Jane Goodall. By protecting chimpanzees and inspiring people to conserve the natural world we all share, we improve the lives of people, animals and the environment. Everything is connected—everyone can make a difference.