Pinky is an exotic beauty, flirtatious and playful. Bruno likes to hurl stones at strangers that venture too close to his territory. And Little, traumatized by Sierra Leone's civil war, rocks on his heels, alone, picking at his hair.

The three are among the lucky few orphaned and abused chimpanzees who have survived poachers, animal trappers and 10 years of warfare, thanks to a small group of people who, at personal risk and with only a shoestring budget, have kept this country's only chimpanzee sanctuary going.

"I didn't know anything about chimps when I started," said Bala Amarasekaran, a Sri Lankan who founded and directs the sanctuary, which sits on a hillside rain forest 10 miles from the capital, Freetown. "But the more I am around them, the more I realize how close they are to us. They are so intelligent, that is what fascinates me. You never get tired of being with them."

The sanctuary is home to 43 chimpanzees, including Pinky, the only known albino chimp in existence. They respond to their names when called and romp either in their cages or in the forest.

Sierra Leone had an estimated 20,000 wild chimpanzees in the mid-1970s, but experts say fewer than one-tenth that number survive. The animals have been hunted for meat, tracked for capture and sale and seen their natural habitat devastated by war and human encroachment. Even those in the sanctuary were hardly spared such troubles.

In May 1997, rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), along with renegade army units, marched on Freetown, infiltrating the capital on footpaths that cut through the reserve, burning villages and killing civilians along the way.

Amarasekaran, along with foreign aid and embassy workers, was evacuated. The rebels marched through the sanctuary, looting the chimps' food and smashing computers but sparing the chimps.

The reserve's local staff, aided by people in surrounding communities, risked their lives for several months to scrounge in the forest for food for the chimps and deliver it as the war raged. Amarasekaran returned in November 1997, and the rebels were driven from Freetown shortly afterward.

Years later, Amarasekaran said, he ran into a soldier who had raided the sanctuary and asked him why the chimps were not killed. "He said, 'The chimps were not on our agenda,' " Amarasekaran said, shaking his head.

The rebels attacked the capital again in 1999, killing and maiming thousands of people. This time, workers at the chimp reserve and civil defense forces from nearby villages took up arms to defend themselves and the 22 chimps there at the time, Amarasekaran said. Despite heavy fighting, the animals again escaped slaughter. Amarasekaran stayed, fearing his staff would be killed if there were no foreigner there to offer them protection.

"The RUF did not kill any chimps, but several died because with the RUF here we could not get medicine and proper food for them," Amarasekaran said. "They caused the deaths of at least five chimps, but they did not directly kill them."

Because of the war, the sanctuary received little publicity, few visitors and only occasional funding. Now the war is winding down, Freetown bustles with aid workers and thousands of U.N. peacekeepers, and the chimps receive a steady stream of visitors as word of the reserve has spread.

"It was hard to ask for money for chimpanzees when there is so much human suffering here," Amarasekaran said as he played with some of the chimps in cages and walked through the forest to check on others. "Now, as things settle down, doing this doesn't seem so crazy to people."

Amarasekaran explained his decision to protect chimpanzees at a time of immense human suffering by saying he was compelled by the horrific conditions of confinement and abuse of the first chimps he took in, coupled with his readings of how similar chimps and humans are.

Most of the chimps he has rescued, he said, were badly abused, kept in chains or confined in small cages and not given adequate food or medical attention. Many were taught to drink alcohol, which their owners used as a sedative to control them as they grew older and more aggressive.

"You can't see that abuse and not respond," Amarasekaran said. "I knew nothing about chimps or captive chimps when I started, but the more I learned the more I knew I had to do something."

Despite the sanctuary's relative obscurity, Amarasekaran and his staff of six have gotten the money -- from conservation groups, donations and their own pockets -- to enclose 10 acres of forest with an electric fence, where 25 of the chimps now roam in semi-wild conditions.

Since most chimps that arrive at the sanctuary are captured as babies after their mothers have been killed for meat and are not accustomed to being in the wild or in groups, each new arrival undergoes several months of quarantine to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, and then integrates into the larger group over several months.

Currently 11 chimps, including Pinky, are learning to live with others, spending most of each day in a small, fenced jungle enclosure and the nights in cages, sleeping in small hammocks made from empty rice and wheat sacks. One sleeps in a tire. Seven recent arrivals are in quarantine and undergoing health screening.

More chimps arrive all the time, including 12 this year. If Amarasekaran or his staff hear of a captive chimp, they go with the police to confiscate it immediately and bring it to the reserve.

A potentially embarrassing situation was recently defused when President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah's son and namesake, known as Junior, was found to have an illegal chimp. Under pressure from his father, Junior turned the chimp over to the sanctuary several weeks ago.

On a recent Sunday, Junior and an entourage of friends showed up to visit his former pet. After a few minutes, the chimp roamed over to the fence where Junior stood and did a little dance.

"I know he is much happier here," Junior said. "You can see he's made friends, he has other chimps that look after him. He looks fantastic."

Amarasekaran said he never guessed this is where he would end up, nor could he have known the difficulties he would face. His parents brought him to Sierra Leone as a schoolboy in 1978, and he earned an accounting degree and worked at a firm in Freetown.

But his life changed in 1988 when he and his wife, Sharmila, spotted a caged infant chimp for sale outside Freetown and bought it for $30, fearing it would die if they didn't save it.

In 1990 the couple took in another abandoned chimp, and another, until by 1993 they had seven. Amarasekaran soon contacted Jane Goodall, famed for her chimp research in Tanzania, and arranged to have the seven moved to a preserve in Zambia.

But Amarasekaran said he soon realized any solution had to include a place for other chimps found here. So, instead of shipping the chimps out, he asked the government for land for the preserve and was given the current site in 1994.

In 1995 Amarasekaran went to work full time at the sanctuary, while his wife ran a computer business in Freetown. When funding wanes, some of her profits are channeled into food for the chimps or salaries for the staff.

As word of the sanctuary has spread, Amarasekaran said, so has outside interest.

U.S. Ambassador Joseph Melrose and other diplomats are helping to organize fundraisers and "sponsor a chimp" programs now that the war is over. Amarasekaran is hoping to raise money for a larger enclosure.

"So little of their natural habitat remains," Amarasekaran said. "People still hunt them or catch them because they think the chimps are cute pets. But they are amazing. If you are with them for a long time you can actually communicate with them. So we rescue the ones we can."

These chimpanzees survived a decade-long war, poachers and trappers in Sierra Leone, thanks to the efforts of Bala Amarasekaran, right, who built the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary. Pinky, left, is the only known albino chimpanzee in the world. Above, a chimp peers out from behind a fence at the 10-acre site. Most of the rescued chimps were badly abused, kept in chains or confined in small cages and not given adequate food.