“The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.”
— Alice Walker
When a baby chimpanzee named Ramba ran towards Singaporean Louis Ng and showed him her lips to check if they were bleeding- after being punished for not sitting still whilst being trained for a photography session- the first seeds of ACRES were sown. Once his eyes were opened to how baby chimpanzees were taken from their mothers permanently for photography sessions and were sometimes harshly punished for not ‘behaving’, Louis became determined to end this cruelty, stop the chimp photography sessions and reunite Ramba and two other baby chimpanzees, Poko and Gombe, with their mothers.
Louis realised that there was no group in Singapore tackling such issues, so decided the only way forward to help Ramba, Poko and Gombe was to form a new animal protection group. Louis, Together with nine other Singaporeans who cared to make a difference, Louis founded ACRES - the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society.
The passion and hard work of those first few members of ACRES, together with help from the International Primate Protection League (IPPL), saw the chimp photography sessions end and Ramba, Poko and Gombe reunited with her mothers and family group. Inspired, and aware that positive change for animals can be achieved, and that helping even individual animals was a worthwhile goal, ACRES was started on its mission to help animals, both individuals and on a wider scale.
And so began ACRES’ groundbreaking advocacy and educational work, raising awareness on important animal protection issues that had been swept under the carpet until then, speaking up for animals and giving them a voice.
From starting with just one individual determined to make a difference for three animals, today ACRES has grown to an organisation with over 18,000 supporters and volunteers, a team of passionate full-time staff and a dedicated committee- all united in a common goal of making the world a better place for non-human animals.
Sadly, Ramba passed away at a very young age in 2004, but the work of ACRES continues in her memory, and ACRES continues as it started; giving a voice to those who cannot speak up for themselves.
IN LOVING MEMORY OF RAMBA (1997-2004)By Louis Ng, Founder and Executive Director, ACRES.
On 5 April 2004, Ramba, a female chimpanzee at Singapore Zoo escaped from her enclosure. She was darted by zoo personnel, fell into a nearby reservoir and drowned. It was a tragic death for a chimp who deserved so much more.…
By Louis Ng, Founder and Executive Director, ACRES.
I was about 21 years old, she was only 2 years old. It was a blind date.
We met at the zoo and Ramba was the first chimp I fell in love with. She was beautiful and stared right through my eyes when I first met her. She had a hard life and an awful story to tell.
At a young age she was separated from her mother Susie. She was slated to become a photography chimp and was kept in a cage, away from her whole family group permanently just so that the zoo could take her out for the photography sessions more easily. She would often cry during the photography sessions and I tried my best to comfort her.
I am ashamed it took me so long to realize that it was wrong to use chimps as photography props and I look back now and think of all the times she had come to me for help.
I fondly remember playing with her during the breaks, tickling her and hearing her laugh. But when it was back to taking photos, she always had the look on her face, which made me feel guilty for participating in these sessions. Like all women, she had mastered the art of making men feel guilty.
I finally stopped volunteering at the zoo and started a campaign to end the use of chimps in photography sessions at Singapore zoo. With the help of IPPL, the campaign was a success.
In 2001, Ramba was released back into the enclosure. She was finally reunited with Susie, her mother, and they spent hours grooming each other. She no longer needed to participate in photography sessions.
She was just starting to get her life back and now she is dead. Somehow, I wish I could have done more for her.
She lived a life of fear and perhaps it is ironic that only through her death can she be free from it. She was only six years old when she died but it was the only way out of a life she never chose.