How could someone do this? Three chimpanzees are being held for ransom after they were stolen from a wildlife sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The animals were stolen earlier this month. Franck Chantereau, founder of the J.A.C.K. Primate Rehabilitation Centre, told Mongabay that thieves infiltrated his ape enclosure in the city of Lubumbashi. “It is a nightmare… it was such a disaster,” Chantereau said of the theft, according to Mongabay. He believed the animals were stolen on the early morning of Sep. 9. The ape conservationist says that the thieves have threatened to kill the apes and send their severed heads back to the zoo if Chantereau refuses to pay a ransom for the animals, according to Mongabay. The theft is unprecedented, according to Chantereau. “We have faced a lot of challenges for 18 years now. But we have never experienced anything like this: the kidnapping of apes.” The thieves have also threatened to kidnap Chantereau’s own children and wife, according to the primate center founder. The director of a local charity involved in fighting wildlife crime is describing the theft as the first of its kind. Adams Cassinga, director of ConservCongo, is worried that the theft is a sign of increased criminal activity on the part of poachers and animal traffickers, speaking to Mongabay in a phone interview. “This is very rare, this is the first time, not just in Africa but the world, that I am hearing of this.” “We have heard [of] people using wildlife as a shield or as a political or social agenda. This is the first time I have heard of people literally kidnapping animals so that they can ask for money.” Cassinga is asking for the authorities to arrest those responsible for stealing the apes. “These criminals have taken the entire wildlife crime to a new level. And it demands that law enforcement agents step up their games as well. There is panic and fear.” J.A.C.K has provided a safe sanctuary for apes in the Congo since 2006, according to Mongabay. The Congo is one of several countries in sub-Saharan Africa with chimpanzee habitats, according to the African Wildlife Foundation. They’re highly social creatures, and are considered some of the most intelligent animals in the natural kingdom, according to Live Science. This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.