When is Baby Chimp Rescue on TV?

A new three-part series on BBC Two follows the story of orphaned baby chimps in Liberia, and how they are being rehabilitated for a new sanctuary.

Chimp Gaia and caregiver Jenneh. The smallest chimp the Desmonds have ever rescued, little Gaia was less than two months old and had no teeth when she was taken from the wild. © Lindsey Parietti/BBC

When is Baby Chimp Rescue on TV?

Baby Chimp Rescue starts on Thursday 9 January at 8pm on BBC Two.

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Episode 2 airs on Thursday 16 January at 8pm on BBC Two, and episode 3 airs on Thursday 23 January at 8pm on BBC Two.

Pick up a copy of BBC Wildlife Magazine‘s January issue (on sale until Wednesday 15 January) for series producer Rob Sullivan’s feature about the orphaned chimps in this series. Look inside the issue and find out how to subscribe.

Who is presenting Baby Chimp Rescue?

Baby Chimp Rescue is presented by Ben Garrod, a professor of evolutionary biology and science engagement, who has also presented a number of other natural history programmes including Secrets of Bones and Secrets of Skin (look out for Ben’s feature on skin in BBC Wildlife Magazine‘s February issue, on sale from Thursday 16 January).

Ben Garrod tests the chimps’ development on skills like tool use. In the wild chimps use sticks to fish for termites and ants. © Abi Brown/BBC

What is Baby Chimp Rescue about?

American couple Jimmy and Jenny Desmond never planned on becoming surrogate parents to 21 baby chimpanzees. Jimmy is a wildlife vet, and when he and his wife Jenny first arrived in Liberia in 2015 for a completely different project, someone handed them two orphaned baby chimps.

They didn’t have the heart to turn them away. Word soon spread, more babies arrived and now their home is bursting at the seams with chimpanzees.

Being dad to 20 chimps isn’t easy but Jimmy Desmond helps give constant care and love to the orphaned chimps. © Lindsey Parietti/BBC

The orphans are now the stars of Baby Chimp Rescue. All of them have distinct individual personalities, but share one thing in common: they’ve all been rescued from Liberia’s illegal pet trade.

Their mothers were killed by hunters for the commercial bushmeat trade, and the babies were sold as pets. The lucky ones are rescued, and end up with Jimmy and Jenny.

Many come in with shrapnel wounds from the bullets that killed their mothers. For Jimmy, each new arrival is a painful reminder of the crisis unfolding before their eyes.

“Every guy you see here is a tragedy,” Jimmy says. “They have all been through a really traumatic experience and they shouldn’t be here. They should be in the forest with their family – we’re just trying to give them the best life we can, considering the circumstances.”

When Chance was rescued with severe head trauma the Desmonds worried she might not survive. But after a few months at the rescue centre, Chance is on her way to becoming an inquisitive and playful chimp. © Lindsey Parietti/BBC

Apart from helping the chimps recover, the major long-term goal of Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue and Protection is to build them all a new semi-wild sanctuary in the forest, so they can lead as natural a life as possible.

It’s very unlikely the chimps can ever be properly released back into the wild, as they’re now habituated to people, but the new sanctuary will allow them to live in trees and form their own group, whilst still giving them plenty of  food and veterinary care.  

The Desmonds work around the clock to rehabilitate the orphaned chimps after they lose their mothers to poachers. © Jenny Desmond

It’s a huge ambition, fraught with challenges – Jimmy and Jenny need to find the land, build the infrastructure and, in the meantime, get the chimps ready for their new life in the forest.

For this task, they’ve called in some help from an old friend. Professor Ben Garrod, a specialist in wild chimpanzee behaviour and the presenter of Baby Chimp Rescue, first met the Desmonds 10 years ago on another chimp project in Uganda. His role is to help prepare the orphans for their new home.

Nut cracking isn’t as easy as the teachers think. Chimp specialist Ben Garrod and wildlife vet Jimmy Desmond struggle to master the manual dexterity required of the chimps. © Tuppence Stone/BBC

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Main image: Chimp Gaia and caregiver Jenneh. The smallest chimp the Desmonds have ever rescued, little Gaia was less than two months old and had no teeth when she was taken from the wild. © Lindsey Parietti/BBC