Rescued baboon Pretzel is finding friendship and freedom after being kept chained in captivity.

Rescuing wild animals from the illegal pet trade is all in a day’s work for our team at the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre. So far this year we’ve taken in 11 primates that were either confiscated directly from someone’s house or found for sale on the side of the road. But when we recently took in a young baboon that had been kept on a chain in a village we were shocked at her condition. 

As you can see below, Pretzel is suffering from horrible growth defects. Although it’s difficult to estimate age in cases like this, our team judged her to be around 1.5 years old based on her personality and behaviour – though her body size and limbs are far too small for a normal baboon of this age. Although she could move around easily enough and didn’t appear to be in visible pain, it was clear that Pretzel’s development had been severely stunted. 

After performing an initial quarantine exam and health check our team suspected that she was suffering from rickets, most likely caused by poor diet during her time in captivity. It’s likely she had been malnourished since she was very small, possibly even from birth. Her x-rays showed poor bone density and her blood tests confirmed that this was caused by a severe calcium deficiency.

Fortunately, this was one thing we could help fix by supplementing her diet with oral calcium and children’s multivitamins. The bigger problem was the bends in some of her bones. Unfortunately these are a permanent problem. This will affect how well Pretzel can move as her joints don’t have the same extension as a regular skeleton, so she will always be at higher risk of fracture. 

Amazingly, given the ordeal Pretzel had clearly been through, she was a bright and bouncy character from day one. She took to her new surroundings quickly and made it clear to staff how much she enjoyed meal times – always making sure to lick her bowl clean. She also likes carrying her bowl of afternoon milk around her enclosure before drinking it. 

Given Pretzel’s fragile condition, we’ve taken the rehabilitation process slow. As with most of our rescued primates – given that they are highly social animals – we planned to give Pretzel some baboon company, but knew we had to choose carefully given that her bones were so delicate, and that baboons often like to play rough! We also waited until further tests showed some improvement in her bone density and kept a close eye on her behaviour to make sure we were confident that she was physically strong enough for an introduction to a friend.  

That friend was Mwayi. Also rescued from the illegal pet trade, Mwayi is slightly older than Pretzel, estimated to be around five years old. Given her background, we weren’t sure how much baboon interaction Mwayi had previously had, but we thought her calm temperament would make her a good fit for Pretzel. Mwayi seemed to agree. One day we noticed the two baboons sitting next to each other and grooming each other through their enclosures. In fact, they seemed so engrossed in each other that we decided to open the gates and let them introduce themselves then and there. It was friendship at first sight!

Mwayi is a gentle baboon who loves to groom and cuddle Pretzel (see video below). The interaction also really seems to benefit her as well as she gets to socialise without having the pressure of dealing with a whole troop of adult baboons. Pretzel, meanwhile, loves her new friend! Although she’s a little unsure how to react when Mwayi tries to carry her or treat her like the infant she is, she adores having a play mate. More often that not it’s Pretzel who instigates their play sessions and starts chasing Mwayi.

The two baboons will both stay at the Wildlife Centre for the rest of their lives. Our goal is to create a new troop with Pretzel and Mwayi and some other individuals that have also missed a lot of their social development and would benefit from living in a calmer troop environment. 

Pretzel and Mwayi are two of the animals that are available for adoption! Adopting an animal is a fantastic way to support the work of the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre and help us give rescued animals the safety and support they need.