Rehabilitation & Re-wilding at Shamwari

A few weeks ago, I travelled to Shamwari Private Game Reserve in South Africa, to visit their brand new Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre.

It has been built to accommodate injured, sick or orphaned animals in their rehabilitation process, and has been designed to minimise human contact and thereby maximise re-wilding success. Only small numbers of pre-arranged visitors will be allowed to visit the facility which incorporates an information/education centre and cleverly designed hides, which provide an opportunity to view animals from a distance without disturbing them.

Critically injured, and sick animals, will continue to be treated at the existing veterinary centre on the reserve until they are ready for the rehabilitation and re-wilding process.

The facility is truly spectacular and we are so pleased for Johan and his team that their vision has finally come to fruition.  OAT are proud supporters of the project and we would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to our close friends, Alicia & Simon Hosking and Janey & David Simpson, for generously matching our contribution and thereby enabling its creation.

Here is a brilliant 2 min video and some pics to give you an idea of what its all about!

new rehab

team2

Extinction memorial

inside centre

Whilst there, I was privileged to be able to take part in the process of moving some of the animals from the veterinary centre to the new facility. An amazing opportunity for which I will be forever grateful!

4 ibis pics

baby eles

dave and ele

 

 

First European Elephant Sanctuary!

Earlier this month I went to visit Elephant Haven European Elephant Sanctuary (EHEES) a project OAT are very proud to be supporting.

It is situated near the town of Limoges in France.  The sanctuary was founded in 2016 by Sofie Goetghebeur & Tony Verhulst, who collectively, have over 30 years experience working with captive wild animals, particularly elephants. The concept was driven by their passion to provide retired circus elephants and indeed any elephants in need of sanctuary, with a purpose built facility that is suited to their needs. The emphasis is on the needs of the animals and not the public.

Sophie & Tony

The Issues

There are almost 700 elephants currently living in circuses, zoos and other captive environments in mainland Europe.  Due to increased public awareness of captive animal welfare issues, a number of countries have already imposed a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses and it seems many more will follow suit. Also, many zoos who are not meeting the required welfare standards are also under scrutiny, and laws are clamping down on the illegal import and trade in wildlife. All of this is positive news for wildlife going forward, but the knock on effect will mean that many animals are, and will continue to be, in need of appropriate rehoming. Many other animals, big cats for example, are able to be relocated to large sanctuaries in their native countries, but with elephants, this is simply not possible.   

Circus

Solutions

Recognising the impending need to provide a facility that is purpose built for retired and rescued elephants, Sofie and Tony looked for an ideal situation with adequate space to create very large elephant paddocks, build large elephant barns and ideally in a warm climate.  I am pleased to say they have succeeded, and Elephant Haven European Elephant Sanctuary is due to open its doors, and be ready to receive their first elephants in September 2019. 

Imagine waking up one morning and deciding to build Europe’s first elephant sanctuary, quit your job, move country and embark upon your mission. Most people, including their families, thought Sofie & Tony had lost their minds.  But together they stayed focussed, and they are now only a few months away from turning their dream into a reality.

Building 1.jpg

Supporters

Sofie & Tony have already managed to secure generous grants and donations from a number of animal welfare organisations including OAT, World Animal Protection, and Bridget Bardot, and a number of individual supporters have, and continue to support them. Corporate sponsors have provided much of the equipment and tools required for the construction work and fencing, and I was also very encouraged to learn that a large number of volunteers continue to give their time, expertise and labour to help this amazing project.

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The development of the project hasn’t been without its challenges and I am sure there will be many obstacles to overcome in the future.  However, considering the passion and dedication of Sofie and Tony, I have no doubt they will succeed, and will soon be providing many elephants in Europe with the compassionate care, respect and dignity they deserve.  OAT are certainly in it for the long run and will be behind them all the way!

A few extra pics from my trip.

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OAT supported Projects collaborating in Zambia

I have just returned from Zambia where I was visiting 2 great projects that OAT has been supporting for a few years now:

Elephant Orphanage Project (EOP), who rescue and rehabilitate orphaned elephants (mainly victims of poaching and human wildlife conflict) and the Zambia Primate Project (ZPP) who rescue and rehabilitate primates that have been illegally held captive as pets, for bush meat or are destined for the pet trade. Both organisations work tirelessly to rescue, rehabilitate and release these animals back into the wild.

Travelling with me on this trip was Johan Joubert & Megan Sinclair. Johan is the Director of Wildlife & senior vet at Shamwari Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape – South Africa and Megan is his senior vet nurse and assistant.

Plane

Although Shamwari already have a sophisticated veterinary unit for critically injured and sick wildlife, they are in the process of building a new Rescue, Rehabilitation & Soft Release facility for animals that need minor medical assistance with minimum human interaction before being prepared for release. OAT and friends of OAT have contributed towards the building of this new facility which is scheduled for completion in April this year.  In the spirit of collaboration, we thought it would be a good idea to introduce Johan and Megan to the rescue, rehabilitation and re-wilding projects we support in Zambia so that they can share knowledge and establish contact for the future.

Our first stop was EOP’s Lilayi Elephant Nursery facility in Lusaka where young orphans spend the first few years of their rehabilitation process. Thereafter we travelled to Camp Phoenix, the soft release facility in Kafue National Park, where the elephants progress for the next stage of their rehabilitation.

J&M meet the team

assisting Nkala

Here is a very cute video of the youngest eles coming into the Lilayi Nursery boma for their morning milk after a morning of grazing in the bush…

 

After our time with EOP we went on to meet the ZPP team at their re-wilding and release facility for primates, also located within Kafue National Park.

ZPP

This trip was a huge success and the Shamwari veterinary team learned a great deal from both EOP and ZPP.    We couldn’t have been happier with the outcome, as not only will Shamwari’s wild and injured animals benefit from this trip, but all three parties have now established contact and will be able to share knowledge and experience going forward.  A big thank to EOP and ZPP for being so helpful, willing and hospitable.  A big thank you to to Mukambi Lodge for accommodating us all and making us so welcome.

A few more pics from our trip 😉

gallery

First visit to Uganda

I recently had the privilege of visiting the Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda. It was my first visit to this beautiful country and I can honestly say I had one of the best wildlife viewing experiences to date.

The purpose of my visit was to spend time with the Uganda Conservation Foundation (UCF) who have been operating there for approx 20yrs and are dedicated to protecting Uganda’s national parks, protected areas and conservancies.  Uganda has 10 national parks, Murchison Falls being the biggest, which is 3,800sq kilometres.

01 Murchison Falls

02 Giraffe & Nile

03 Big Tusker

In the 1960’s Murchison NP was one of the best places to see wildlife on the African continent due to its abundance of wildlife. Sadly over the last few decades poaching has taken its toll and wildlife numbers have been drastically reduced.

I met and spent time with various members of UCF and The Uganda Wildlife Authority UWA  including Mike Keigwin Trustee & Project Lead of UCF and UWA’s (Uganda Wildlife Authority) senior wardens and wildlife veterinarian.  I was also privileged to meet Julias Obwana, the warden in charge of law enforcement for Murchison Falls Conservation Area and winner of Africa’s Best Ranger at the 2018 Tusk awards 👍🏻😀.

UCF were seeking support to set up a mobile veterinary clinic (vehicle + equipment) that will patrol Murchison Falls NP on a daily basis and be available to respond to wildlife in need.  The UWA constantly receive calls from tourists and park rangers reporting snared and injured animals, but sadly they are seldom in a position to attend to these victims due to the lack of a vehicle and equipment. In addition, UCF anticipate a further increase in wildlife injuries and displacement due to numerous mining developments in an around the park.

Subsequent to my visit OAT has agreed to support UCF & UWA in this area and we are hopeful that a fully equipped veterinary vehicle will be up and running within the next month or so. I will post pics when we receive them. 👍

04 Dave with team

05 Park Rangers

06 De-snaring

OAT are very proud to be supporting UCF and UWA and we look forward to developing a long and successful relationship.  We wish them every success with the wonderful work they do, protecting Uganda’s wilderness and the beautiful wildlife that inhabits it.

Just returned from Zambia visiting the Elephant Orphanage Project, more on this shortly……🐘

 

 

Coco is Free !!!

Hi All,

You may remember my visits to The Chimpanzee Conservation Centre (CCC) in Guinea (North West Africa) over the last 2 years and my story about Coco, a very special resident chimp there, who stole my heart. I met Coco on both my visits and fell in love with him.  He is my all-time favourite animal – don’t tell my dogs Shooosh🤫🤫

3 x coco before a

After being taken from his mother in the wild as a small baby he was kept by hotel owners and tied to a reception desk to entertain guests.. He was even taught to smoke and drink beer as a form of amusement.  At the age of 18 he became too big and dangerous to manage inside the hotel so he was tied to a tree in the garden, again to entertain guests. One day he managed to break free and was shot 5 times in the back and legs by the military police for fear he would harm someone. It was at this stage that CCC took him in and nursed him to recovery. He has lived at the sanctuary since 2001.

Coco is 39yrs old now and has been living at CCC for the past 18 years. Sadly he has spent a lot of this time on his own in a relatively small cage as attempts to integrate him into large enclosures with other rescued chimps have failed due to a number of reasons.  Firstly his inability to socialise with other chimps as being raised by humans, he can’t really speak “chimp” 😥 and, secondly, when CCC did manage to get him into an enclosure for a while,  he managed to escape which posed a danger to CCC staff and himself. He did live in a large enclosure for 5 years at one stage but then he became an escape artist….

Sadly he will never be able to return to the wild as he has been deprived of the natural survival instincts he would have learnt from his mother and peers and he lacks the social skills necessary to become part of a potential release troop.

2 x coco before b

The dedicated team at CCC have taken really good care of him and he has food, shelter and human love, but from the moment “we met” when he was living in this cage no bigger than the size of an average kitchen,  I just knew he deserved better. He needed a large, escape proof enclosure for himself, something CCC could not afford to provide him with.

3 x coco before c

 

When I left the CCC camp after my first visit, I looked my new friend Coco in the eyes and promised I would get him out of this cage one day. OAT then agreed to build a state of the art ‘escape proof’ chimpanzee enclosure so that Coco could live out the rest of his life climbing and sleeping in trees and be out in the open where he belongs.  2 yrs have now gone by and Coco’s new very large ‘escape proof’ enclosure was finally completed in late Dec 2018.

I have tears in my eyes writing this because Coco is now FREEEE……..he was released into his new enclosure on the 1st Jan 2019.

Below are some pics & videos of Coco being released and looking very happy in his new enclosure. This was the perfect New Year present for all of us at OAT and CCC and I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the CCC team on making this happen. A dream come true for all of us and of course for our beloved Coco. I can’t wait to visit him again which I hope to do later this year!  Notice how he claps and makes excited chimp noises immediately he is let out of the cage! 😀 It might seem extravagant for one chimp, but we and Coco don’t think so! Its life changing for him and every life counts.  CCC have also committed to try and introduce a companion into the enclosure once Coco is settled. I will keep you posted!

4 x coco released

 

 

 

 

Revisiting ….. Chimpanzee Conservation Centre in Guinea.

I recently returned from visiting the Chimpanzee Conservation Centre (CCC) in Guinea, North West Africa.

The main reason for my visit was to check in with the team and see how the OAT funded camp upgrade works are getting along.  The biggest element of work is the new life-time care enclosure currently being constructed for 5 adult chimps that will never be released back into the wild. These chimps are far too humanised due to their previous lives in captivity and simply don’t have the skills to survive in the wild. They were stolen from their mothers at a very young age and were therefore never taught the basic skills. One is not supposed to have favourites, but I do, and his name is Coco. You may remember me mentioning him in my previous CCC blog last year.

As a baby, Coco had a terrible start in life where he was tied to a hotel reception desk and forced to smoke and drink beer to entertain hotel guests. When he got bigger he became too dangerous for this job and was tied to a tree in the hotel garden until one day he escaped and was then shot 7 times in the back by the police. Fortunately, he didn’t die and was rescued by the CCC which is where he has been living for the last 18 years. Coco who is the oldest chimp at CCC at 37 years old, is affectionately cared for by the CCC team. His nickname is ‘The President’. The new enclosure will be a lifetime care enclosure for Coco and the 4 other adult chimps. These 5 chimps are currently being held in cages as all of them over the years have become escape artists and are therefore too dangerous to leave in the current ageing enclosures. All 5 of these chimps will hopefully be integrated successfully and retire together in this semi-wild enclosure away from human beings. They will obviously be fed daily and will have free access to lots of trees and water. I can’t wait for the day I see all 5 of them (especially The President) living in their new enclosure and sleeping in the trees where they belong. We are hoping the new enclosure will be ready in September this year………..watch this space.

It was great to spend time with some of the younger chimps too, including Dave, one of the original rescues that we provided quarantine facilities for when we first got involved with CCC. 👍

enclosures3

The second reason for my recent trip to Guinea was to help some baboons and Patas monkeys that are currently being ‘cared for’ by National Park guards. They were all being held illegally by people in their gardens in the nearest town of Faranah, which is the closest town to the National Park. National Park staff confiscated these primates and brought them back to the entrance of the park which is where they are currently being held in unsatisfactory conditions. They are all tied to trees with ropes around their waists. The Haut Niger National Park manager, who is quite obviously an animal lover, asked CCC for help as he has no knowledge of primates and how best to release them to give them the best chance of survival in the wild.

GH

On my last visit CCC asked for my help which led me to contact Dr Cheryl Mvula of the Zambia Primate Project. Cheryl has been running ZPP for the last 15 years and to-date has overseen the successful release of over 600 primates back to the wild. The project manager on the ground for ZPP in Zambia is Cosmas Mumba. You may remember Cosmas coming to the UK 2 years ago when he was nominated for a Tusk Trust award and met HRH Prince William.

JK

I asked Cheryl (ZPP) to accompany me to Guinea to assess the situation on the ground with these tied up primates and advise on how best they should be released. I am happy to say that Cheryl has now put a plan together which is currently awaiting approval from the parks manager. If it comes together, which I am confident it will, it won’t be too long before these primates are released and are free to live out their lives in their natural habitat.

L

M

Sadly a 15 year old chimp named Rambo, pictured below, passed away very suddenly last week. Only 2 weeks ago I was with Rambo feeding him Marks & Spencer nuts which he loved and he seemed then to be a really happy chimp. He was rescued just over a year ago from an illegal zoo which was also a holding facility for all sorts of animals waiting to be trafficked out of Africa and into China and the Middle East, where there is a massive demand for all sorts of exotic animals. May you RIP Rambo 😢. Animals just like Rambo are suffering due to human demand to own them as pets and see them in zoos and circuses. Please can I ask you to think really hard about Rambo and all exotic animals the next time you consider visiting a zoo. They are jails for animals and there’s no other way of putting it!

N

 

HOT OFF THE PRESS!

I was just about to publish this blog when we received word from CCC to say that a new rescue / confiscation is on the way to them. Don’t know the full background as yet but will keep you posted.  Such a tiny baby…breaks my heart to think he was taken from his family at all, but even worse at such a young and vulnerable age 😢  Still, he is in the best possible hands now.  See pics below:

Chimp Recue

 

Family Trip to Asia

So far it’s been a very busy year for OAT on the travel front!  We have visited numerous projects we support in both Asia and Africa and its been great to have the rest of the family with me on some of the trips.

Animals Asia

Myself, Sue and Jonathan kicked it off with a visit to China and Vietnam in March, and I am pleased to say my nephew Jeff (17) and niece Nicola (12), joined us on this trip. We are hopeful they will carry the legacy of OAT forward into the next generation and continue to help all animals in need.

 

1 & 2 OATers with AA

Our trip included visits to Animals Asia’s bear sanctuaries in both China and Vietnam, who collectively home 100’s of bears rescued from the horrific bear bile industry.

4. beautiful moon bears

Everyone loved seeing the bears in their beautiful lush enclosures, enriched with plenty of activities to keep them stimulated. The Olsens even participated in hiding some of the bear food in the enclosures – when the bears were safely locked into their night enclosures of course – and it was great to see the bears foraging around afterwards looking for and then enjoying delicious pieces of fruit, vegetables and even mayonnaise and honey 🍯😋!

7 food

Animal Asia’s mission, is to continue their rescue, rehabilitation and advocacy work, until one day the inhumane practice of bear bile farming is outlawed completely. Through their tenacious efforts over the last 20 years, the practice was recently abolished in Vietnam and there are positive signs that China will follow suit in the future.

5. enjoying new life new home

6 proud supporters

Although Animals Asia’s main focus is bears, they deal with many welfare issues relating to other wild and domestic animals such as dogs, cats and elephants. Education is also a key element of their work which is crucial for changing peoples attitudes to animal welfare now, and in the future.

We are supporting a relatively new initiative of Animals Asia’s in Vietnam aimed at ending the disgraceful tourist activity of elephant back riding. More on this later as the project develops but if successful, this will be a real game changer. Whilst there, we visited some rescued elephants and those currently being used for riding. 😓

Ele chained8 rescued eles

 

Wilderness Foundation – Forever Wild Rhino; Vietnam be my Hero

Whilst in Vietnam, we also visited the offices of Forever Wild Rhino; Vietnam be my Hero, a project owned and operated by The Wilderness Foundation, whose aim is to reduce the demand for rhino horn by educating the next generation. A select number of students who have demonstrated their passion for conservation are bought to South Africa each year to see rhinos and other indigenous wildlife in their natural environment. They are then educated on the effects of the trade in rhino horn and the impact it is having on the survival of the species. On their return to Vietnam, they are tasked with becoming ambassadors / Rhino Heroes in their own country to contribute towards the preservation of the species. We were lucky enough to have met some of these student ambassadors in person, as well as the overall project managers. We were also privileged to meet the projects’ famous ambassador, Thanh Bui, pop idol, and founder of Soul Music Academy in Vietnam.  A totally selfless man who is passionate about wildlife conservation.

9. wild rhino

Save Vietnam’s Wildlife

We also took the time to see first hand the conservation, rescue, rehab and release work of Save Vietnam’s Wildlife. Another incredibly successful organisation that we support, founded and managed by Thai Nguyen Van who focuses on the preservation of pangolins and other small mammals.  OAT contributed to the build of their Pangolin quarantine quarters and we saw many precious pangolins in this facility. They were in the final stage of their rehabilitation programme being prepared for final release 😀 Pangolins are one of the most trafficked mammals in the world and Thai and his team do an incredible job.  They also have a first class education centre which we thoroughly enjoyed visiting.

10. SVW

After a full days work visiting many aspects of the project we enjoyed a collaborative gathering of OAT, Save Vietnam’s Wildlife and Animals Asia 👍😀

11. cheers

 

This visit to Asia was an emotional experience, especially for my sister Sue, who established our family trust 3 years ago to help animals in need.  It really bought home to her and us the true extent of suffering that animals endure at the hands of human exploitation. Having said this, it was also very inspirational seeing first hand the work that amazing people and organisations do to combat the suffering and effect positive change in peoples attitude to animal welfare and conservation. It really reinforced our commitment to support such organisations, and to coin an Animals Asia phrase, “until the cruelty ends…”

Two more blogs to follow up shortly. One relating to my recent return to the Chimpanzee Conservation Centre in Guinea and shortly thereafter, a trip to Zambia to visit the Elephant Orphanage Project 👍