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Owner of sanctuary where three chimpanzees were abducted fears it was 'inside job'

A gang has kidnapped three young chimpanzees from a Congolese sanctuary and is demanding a six-figure ransom for their safe return.

The owner of a sanctuary where three orphaned chimpanzees were kidnapped by a gang demanding a six-figure ransom fears it was an inside job.

Roxane Chantereau, a Belgian national who runs the JACK shelter in the Democratic Republic of Congo with her French husband Franck, says she is “pretty sure” the criminals have a connection to her staff.

The chimpanzees were captured at 3 a.m. on September 9, although it is unclear how the gang managed to pull off the heist.

Armed guards overnight said they saw or heard nothing during the abduction and there is no evidence of forced entry.

The first they learned of the heist was when the captors sent them “proof of life” videos the next morning.

The gang then threatened to kill the owners and kidnap their children.

Ms Chantereau told MailOnline: ‘This situation is very difficult to bear.

‘I still hope the babies are alive. They’ve been through a lot of trauma before we rescue them. We were so happy that we could finally offer them a better life.

“But human greed has once again changed the course of their lives and has once again led them into deep trauma.

I hope these little ones come back to us.

Images shared by the kidnappers show two of the orphaned animals, Hussein and Cesar, climbing over overturned furniture while Monga, a five-year-old girl, has her arms tied above her head in the bare brick room.

Cesar had only been in the sanctuary for a few weeks after he was rescued from a market and taken on a three-day trip on the back of a motorcycle and two flights to the shelter.

Ms. Chantereau said she now brings the animals home to sleep with them for fear they may again be targeted by a smuggling ring.

Her husband said of the footage: “You can see how terrified they are.”

He is working with law enforcement agencies to try to locate the chimpanzees and ensure their safe return.

But the pair have not heard from the traffickers since their initial video, raising fears they may not meet the animals again.

Chimpanzees are already orphaned due to animal trafficking, a trade valued at around £20bn a year.

Chantereau said, “Everyone had been given a second chance, but now this new horror.”

The black market is fueled by collectors of body parts and live animals in Asia and the United Arab Emirates.

Adams Cassinga, director of ConservCongo which investigates and prosecutes wildlife crime, told Mongabay: ‘This is very rare, this is the first time, not just in Africa but in the world, that I’ve heard of this. We have heard [of] people who use wildlife as a shield or as a political or social agenda.

“This is the first time I have heard of people literally kidnapping animals so they can ask for money.

‘These criminals have taken all wildlife crime to a new level. And it demands that law enforcement officers step up their games, too. There is panic and fear.

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A baby chimpanzee costs around £10,000, but taking one into the wild typically involves killing their entire family.

The chimpanzee population in Africa has plummeted from a million in the early 20th century to about 300,000 today.

Mr. Chantereau, from France, set up his facility in 2006, which is one of three in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and houses around 40 chimpanzees and 64 monkeys from 14 species.

It helps rehabilitate animals rescued from traffickers by providing them with food, shelter, and medicine, while also raising awareness of their plight.

The kidnapping has raised concerns about a new type of crime targeting the shrines.

He told Mongabay: ‘We have faced many challenges for 18 years. But we have never experienced something like this: the abduction of apes. They also threatened to kidnap my own children and my wife.

Florence Teneau, from the Brigitte Bardot Foundation, which helps finance Jack’s sanctuary, said: ‘These shelters get a lot of help and funding from international associations, like ours, and the traffickers take advantage of this, because the animals become all the most precious.’

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