Feeling the love: Rescued chimpanzees welcome new orphaned friend with hugs

A newly rescued chimpanzee was heartily embraced by fellow chimpanzees at a rescue in Liberia after meeting them for the first time in April.

Leo was greeted by his new companions at Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue and Protection in Charlesville, and was overwhelmed, anxious -- yet happy, said Jenny Desmond, founder of LCRP.

"I think he felt overwhelming joy! And plain overwhelmed," Desmond said. "But so happy and never looked back!"

She said the other chimpanzees were all excited to meet "a new family member and fighting over who got to greet him next!"

"Chimps want to be with chimps," Desmond said. "This is proof of how important that is to every one of these little ones."

But Leo's journey to the rescue was wrought with pain and tragedy.

"Leo is an amazing survivor of trauma and an inspiration to us about how one can overcome such tragedy and begin a new life," she said.

Leo's mother and family were killed for the bush-meat trade. He was sold to be kept as a pet for entertainment and tied up at a bar in Liberia, where he was first reportedly seen, Desmond said, adding that it was "all illegal here in Liberia."

Leo was then confiscated and rescued after being reported to the authorities and to the LCRP.

"In his previous situation I'm sure he was sad and lonely - he had watched his mom and family killed, been kidnapped and then tied up with a rope so he couldn't move freely," she said. "His high level of skittishness when he came tells me a lot about the level of constant anxiety he was in."

Now, Desmond said she herself feels overwhelming joy seeing Leo with the other chimpanzees.

"I'm crying watching it now!" she said. "It's everything we hope for these little people - to find a new family and find new hope... to find acceptance so they can begin again."

"We can never give them back what they've lost but we can try our hardest to give them the next best thing," Desmond said.

LCRP, founded by wife and husband team Jenny and Jimmy Desmond, is a non-profit organization that works to improve the lives of chimpanzees, both wild and orphaned, in Liberia and its affiliate in the U.S.

This story was reported in Los Angeles.