Three baby chimpanzees are being held for ransom, said founders of a primate rescue sanctuary in Africa.
The ransomers threatened to decapitate the animals, said the owners.
The chimps had previously been rescued from traumatic animal trafficking.
Three baby chimpanzees who had previously been rescued from animal trafficking have been kidnapped and are being held for ransom, the founders of a rescue center in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have said.
Roxanne and Franck Chantereau, founders and heads of the Jeunes Animaux Confisqués au Katanga (JACK) sanctuary, said they received videos of the animals just over two weeks ago, The New York Times reported Friday.
The video, shared on the JACK Facebook page, showed the young primates, aged one to four years old, scampering in an undisclosed location littered with tipped-over furniture.
One of the chimps had his arms tied above his head.
The ransomers threatened to decapitate one of the animals and sell the two others to Chinese traffickers unless a large cash sum was paid, per The Times.
They also threatened the life of Roxanne Chantereau and her two children, the report added.
According to the Chantereaus, chimps are commonly abducted for the pet and meat trade of rare animals. They sell at high prices on the black market.
The three chimps, called Hussain, Monga, and César, were themselves rescued from trafficking.
"They went through hell, their families were killed, they were sold, transported, and extensive financial resources were put forward to repatriate them," said Franck Chantereau to the French outlet France Info.
For every young chimp captured, eight to 10 adults are killed by poachers, Chantereau said. That's about 3,000 to 5,000 chimps killed every year in the DRC alone, per France Info.
Animals that arrive at the JACK sanctuary are often addicted to alcohol or drugs, per The Times.
The Chantereaus told France Info that they have been attacked several times. But this is the first time that a primate has been held for ransom, and they have received death threats.
An endangered pangolin was also held for ransom earlier this year in another area of the country. The two incidents have experts worried that the tactic may become widespread among criminals in the DRC, per the Times.
The country, which has been cracking down on illegal animal trafficking, has launched an investigation into the ransoming, per France Info.
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