Ugandan center gives unwanted lions, servals a home

By CHARLES J. HANLEY
AP SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
Saturday, November 25, 2006 – Last updated 2:48 p.m. PT

ENTEBBE, Uganda — A baby chimpanzee found alone, helpless, in the forest. An African rock python caged and taunted by villagers until it cracks its skull on the metal bars. A rare shoebill crane, a tall, gray-feathered beauty, discovered in the trunk of a smuggler’s car.

Dozens of animals like these are being rescued, nursed back to health and given a home at the Uganda Wildlife Education Center, a kind of halfway house for animals in trouble – wildlife under pressure on a continent where human encroachment and poachers’ greed are pushing many species toward oblivion.

“We give them a second chance,” says the center’s executive director, Andrew G. Seguya.

Some are released back into the wild, while those at greater risk are given a home here for life.

By encouraging visitors to its site, which recreates Uganda’s grassland savanna, its wetlands and forests, the center hopes to inform Ugandans about the need to conserve their wildlife resources by showing them the variety and uniqueness of what they have to protect.

There’s the story of Sarah, for example, a 4-year-old chimp being used for witchcraft when a trafficker’s go-between bought her for a few dollars. Probably bound for Europe or the Middle East, Sarah raised such a ruckus as she was carried away in a bag that police intervened. She’s now been accepted by the center’s 11-member chimp colony.

Each of the site’s 35 shelters has such sad stories with happy endings, as illustrated in these portraits by Associated Press photographer Kirsty Wigglesworth.

“We want to change the way people perceive wildlife,” Seguya said.

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