OAT 2020 to 2021 – NEW PROJECTS

Some exceptional animal welfare projects were bought to our attention over the past year but sadly due to Covid restrictions we were unable to visit them in person. We don’t normally extend grants to projects we haven’t seen first hand but these were exceptional circumstances and based on reputation and gut feeling, we decided to support some incredible initiatives.

I am hoping to visit them at some point in the future and will report back live when I do, but for now here are stories and pictures that showcase the amazing work of three such projects. I will continue to showcase the work of other new projects in further blogs to come.

HUMANE SOCIETY INTERNATIONAL – SOUTH KOREA

Dog Meat Trade

Humane Society International (HSI) are a leading force for animal protection. Alongside their admirable disaster relief responses, they work around the globe to promote the human-animal bond and confront animal cruelty in all its forms including ending confined meat farming, animal testing, trophy hunting and fur farming.

We recently learnt of HSI’s efforts in South Korea, where they are working toward initiating a government ban on the farming of dog meat for human consumption. By 2030, they hope their efforts will have led to the closure of all dog meat farms in the country, and that the cultural view that all dogs are worthy companion animals will predominate.  South Korea is the only country in the world that commercially farms dogs for human consumption and unbelievably, there are an estimated 2 million dogs (including many breeds) currently kept in cruel conditions on thousands of these farms.

Needless to say when HSI asked for our support in shutting down one of these dog meat farms to enable them to rescue and rehabilitate all 171 dogs, we immediately agreed. I am pleased to say that the mission went to plan and HSI expertly coordinated the closure of the farm and the subsequent transport of the dogs to the USA and Canada where they are now undergoing a comprehensive rehabilitation process in preparation for eventual rehoming.

We love everything HSI stand far and are incredibly proud to have been able to help them in this particular mission. I feel its the start of a longstanding mutually beneficial relationship and again, I cant wait to get out to South Korea to witness first hand the work they are doing to end this horrendously cruel trade in dog meat.  

The pictures and short video below shows the dog meat farm before it was closed and prior to the dogs being rescued and transported. The pictures after the video showcase the rescue mission and very happy dogs at the start of their new lives.

Dog Meat Farm

JACK PRIMATE SANCTUARY- Democratic Republic of Congo

25 primates rescued from illegal wildlife trade

DRC is not a country I had ever intended to travel to but having recently learnt about the amazing work of JACK Sanctuary (Jeunes Animal Confisques au Katanga) who specialise in the rescue and rehabilitation of Chimpanzees and other primates, its high on my list of priority projects to visit!

This project came about when we responded to a public appeal from PASA (Pan African Sanctuary Alliance) to help with the rehabilitation of 25 primates, confiscated by the wildlife authorities in Zimbabwe. The primates were illegally taken from the wild in DRC as part of an illegal trade deal. Fortunately the specialised wildlife trade authorities were made aware of this and were able to intervene when the truck carrying the primates was intercepted in Zimbabwe. It is believed they were en-route to South Africa before being exported overseas for the exotic pet trade, zoos, circuses.

Once confiscated the primates needed urgent care and attention due to the stress they had endured and this was provided by a small animal welfare rescue centre in Zimbabwe with the help of Lisa Hywood – founder of the Tikki Hywood Foundation. The primates remained at this facility until the necessary paperwork was obtained to repatriate them to DRC. Sadly the administrative process took 4 months but the good news is they are now back in DRC and thanks to experienced carers at the JACK sanctuary they are well on their way to being rehabilitated. Once this process is completed, they will be returned to the wilds of DRC where they belong.

JACK specialise in the rehabilitation of chimpanzees, which is very different from primate rehabilitation and in order to receive the 25 primates they needed to build specific enclosures and accommodation. With funding from OAT and others, they managed to build this facility in record time and you will see from the photos below, they did an awesome job! I can’t wait to get out their at see it for myself!

Watch this primate entertaining himself….

PETA INDIA

Working horses and bullocks on the street

We have supported the work of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) for a number of years now but this particular protect struck our heart strings. In simplistic terms it incentivises the owners of working animals on the streets of Delhi to relinquish their horses and bullocks to PETA in return for the provision of a mechanised rickshaw. This is a much more efficient method for transporting goods and the animals get to retire to Animal Rahat, a purpose built sanctuary supported by PETA.

A win win situation and better still, the Delhi government are right behind the initiative ensuring that the suffering of working animals will continue to diminish.

Hopefully one day the unnecessary suffering of these animals will become a thing of the distant past. I am pleased to say that our close friends of Good Heart Animal Sanctuaries were as excited as we were about this project and decided to co-fund a grant to enable the kickstart of this awesome initiative. Thank you Good Heart!

I’ll sign off now with a heartwarming video showing their new life at the sanctuary and I look forward to updating you on more new supported projects in the coming weeks.

COCO THE CHIMPANZEE

HELLO AGAIN !

It’s been a while since my last blog as sadly, due to Covid, I have’t been able to spend time in the field over the past year. Needless to say I am itching to get out there again and hopefully I will be able to make at least one or two trips before the end of this year and will be able to start posting live again.

In the meantime, I thought I would update you on some of the key developments with new and existing projects we support – there’s been a lot going on!

I’ll keep the blogs coming over the coming months and hopefully by the time I’m am off on my travels again, I will have bought you up to speed.

COCO

Sorry to kick off with a rather sad story but I am devastated to say that Coco, the wonderful resident chimp at the Chimpanzee Conservation Centre (CCC) in Guinea, recently passed away. I met Coco on my first visit to CCC in 2017 and he, and his story, stole my heart.

From around the age of three, Coco worked in the reception area of a hotel in Guinea. I say worked as his owners taught him to entertain guests by smoking cigarettes and drinking beer. He did this for many years until it became too dangerous for the public and he was then transferred to the garden and tied to a tree so he could continue to entertain guests.

One day Coco managed to escape and made a dash for freedom. The authorities were called and he was captured by being shot, a number of times. Fortunately the wounds were not fatal and due to the dedicated and professional care provided by CCC staff who agreed to adopt him, Coco made a full physical recovery. However, the mental damages were irreversible and it was clear from the outset that he would never be able to be fully rehabilitated and returned to the wild, which is what CCC is all about. Instead he was provided with the next best thing, lifetime care at CCC’s facility within the Haut Niger National park.

After years of trying to integrate him into existing chimp groups at the rehab centre, he was finally confined to a cage, on his own, as he simply couldn’t cohabit with the others. Being robbed of communication skills in his earlier life caused aggressive behaviour all round, making integration dangerous and therefore impossible.

When I met Coco and heard his story we formed a very special friendship. I promised him OAT would do all possible to further improve the quality of his life and a few years later this dream became a reality. We sponsored the construction of a very large enclosure with an abundance of space and natural habitat and once again Coco was able to run free, climb trees, nest, and do a lot of what chimps naturally do in the wild. Here is a little video of the day when Coco was released into his OAT enclosure.

I am heart broken, as are the entire OAT and CCC team, but we are taking comfort from the fact that he died in his wonderful new enclosure, which will go on to provide enjoyment and enrichment for fellow chimps in their rehabilitation process.

We have also recently provided further funding to help CCC build another large enclosure of this nature to improve the rehabilitation and re-wilding process for other rescued chimps. Please see link below if you would like to donate towards this new development project;

https://www.projetprimates.com/new-territory-for-our-orphans/?fbclid=IwAR3GQRJnCodxPbGWUPr_zS15Y9f78K1-Kioa1sPP6-ta96xIDqa4cXPUlOA

The majority of the chimps rescued by CCC are those confiscated when traders who capture and sell them into the illegal exotic pet trade, zoo and circus industry, are intercepted by the authorities. In fact, this is how OAT originally came to support CCC when we were approached by Ofir Drori, founder of Eagle Network, to help provide quarantine enclosures at CCC to facilitate the confiscation of 3 chimps (Ali, Dave & Rambo) following the arrest of traders that Eagle Network had orchestrated.

Ali & Dave are doing well in their rehabilitation programme and are well on their way to being returned to the wild in the future. Sadly Rambo passed away last year from a sudden illness.

Thats all for now, its feels good to be communicating with you again and I look forward to sharing more heartwarming stories with you in the coming months and beyond. I’ll sign off with a short video I made as a tribute to the late Coco. 💜

Mahouts Elephant Foundation – Thailand.

I recently took a trip to Thailand, the first time I’ve been back since my backpacking venture many, many years ago.  This time, I had very different things on my mind and very different intentions 😉……..

The purpose of the visit was to spend time with Sarah Blaine, Founder of The Mahouts Elephant Foundation (MEF) that she and her wonderfully inspiring family set up in 2015.  After Sarah, her husband Felix and their two young children Joe & Natasha witnessed the horrors behind the elephant riding business in Thailand, they decided to try and do something about it.

The horrors…

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MEF Model

Their idea was based on establishing an alternative business model for Mahouts (elephant owners) whose income is traditionally based on rental paid by riding camps for the use of their elephants.

They started by rescuing two elephants from a riding camp in Chiang Mai after agreeing to compensate the Mahouts for their loss of income whilst they set about creating a new tourism model based on walking with, and observing elephants, in their natural habitat – as opposed to riding them.

A life changing moment for the Blaine’s was when they and a group of close friends personally walked with their first two rescued elephants, and their mahouts, from Chiang Mai to the elephants’ area of origin in the Northern Thai Highlands. A gruelling 7 day, 83 mile journey with all sorts of unexpected challenges en route. Their final destination was where Walking With Elephants (WWF) was established – the first MEF project.  The BBC covered this amazing story which was brilliantly told by Sarah’s young children Joe & Natasha and it was aired on CBBC.  A link to this inspiring 30min film can be found at the end of this blog. It is really worth a watch!

To date, MEF has rescued 7 elephants from the tourism business in Thailand, all of whom are now living a much improved life in the forests and are being given the respect and care they deserve. The mahouts are also happy as they have experienced no loss of income and are pleased to be living side by side with their elephants once again. I am also pleased to tell you that we have recently heard that MEF currently have a few more rescues in the pipeline – we will be sure to keep you posted on their progress via our social media links.

My time with the MEF team and their elephants

I was fortunate enough to be given a personal tour of the MEF projects by Sarah Blaine and her wonderful team on the ground. This included long and fairly exhausting treks deep into the mountainous forests, but all of the hardships were forgotten when we eventually found, observed and walked with the rescued elephants.  It was wonderful to see them happy, and just being elephants.  They are so intelligent, and unlike me, are incredibly fast and graceful considering their size – it was hard keeping up!  They are also unbelievably good climbers!

 

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Elephant Riding – The History

There are well over 100 elephant riding camps in Thailand and its a big business. Elephants are not designed to have large chairs put on their backs and they DO NOT like giving tourists rides whatever you might hear. This cruel practise of capturing, training and commercialising elephants for riding, was born in the late 80’s when logging was banned by the Thai government. For generations elephants have been used in the logging industry to move the fallen trees onto trucks bound for the international market place. Teak is what was mainly being logged until one day there were no teak trees left (surprising that isn’t it?….NOT !) so the government banned it, leaving thousands of Thai families and their elephants with no employment.

Coincidently it was at this stage that tourism started to boom in Thailand so the elephant owners started to offer tourists elephant rides for money. Today it’s a massive industry worth millions of dollars.

The Truth…

On the surface, elephants in riding camps seem ok but if you look closely you will see the physical and mental scarring…. A day in the life of an average riding elephant goes like this:

  1. Tied to a tree all night using a short chain and sometimes with no access to food or water, or social interaction with other elephants. The chains often break the skin around the elephants ankles causing them to bleed.
  2. In the day they are literally on standby waiting for tourists to arrive for rides. They often wait all day in the hot sun with no shade, and sometimes no tourists come so they stay chained all day. When its busy, they are ridden by tourists all day which is exhausting, and when the day ends, it’s back to being chained.
  3. If you look carefully, you will see that almost all of these elephants are showing signs of stress. They will often rock their heads from side to side, which is a sign of stress and boredom. Many animals in captivity display this abnormal stereotypical behaviour, eg. zoo and circus animals, and it is considered an indication of very poor psychological well-being. This behaviour is not seen in wild animals.

The Future

We are proud to be supporting this wonderful project and we wish them every success in the future. For further information on their mission and indeed their tourism offering should you fancy an adventure, please visit their website http://www.mahouts.co.uk/

Here is the Blaine’s story I mentioned earlier – it will warm your heart…🥰

 

Sarajevo Street Dogs


sarajevo
Photographs: Maria Slough Photography

I recently travelled to Sarajevo to visit an OAT supported project called Saving Suffering Strays (SSS). The project was introduced to us by two amazing animal warriors here in the UK, photographer Maria Slough and actor Peter Egan. They approached us a while back with a view to OAT investing in the project.  They are both big supporters of SSS and have been for some time. I travelled with Maria to Sarajevo and she introduced me to the SSS team on the ground, as well as some of the wonderful rescue dogs.

The person who runs the project is Milena Malesevic who has dedicated her life to rescuing and rehoming street dogs since 1998. She is supported by a wonderful team of dedicated volunteers based in Bosnia, the UK and Europe.

Dave meets dog watermarked
Milena and me

Maria

SSS currently operate from 3 locations, Milena’s home where critically injured or ill dogs are nursed back to health by Milena personally, a dog shelter run by a wonderful couple Melissa & Mersad who take care of healthy dogs whilst SSS search for new homes, and a facility outside of the city which comprises of a large piece of land with kennels which is a forever home to dogs who are not able to be re-homed. Milena's Flat

waiting

mersad and melissas kennels

happy bus

Kill Shelters

The dogs being cared for by SSS, is a relatively happy story. However, on the flip side, one of the saddest parts of my trip was visiting what was previously a “kill shelter”. In many eastern European countries, dogs are gathered from the streets and placed in shelters and then, as and when the numbers become too big, they are killed in the most inhumane ways. Officially, this government facility is no longer a kill shelter but it was still incredibly depressing seeing the dogs here……😢

Kkill shelters

The future for SSS

Maria, Peter and Milena are currently looking to consolidate the SSS operation. This will involve consolidating the lifetime care and intensive care facilities into one location.  Milena will then live and work from this location which will make life a lot easier from a logistical and management perspective, and will significantly improve the living conditions for the dogs in her direct care.  If you would like to help them to achieve this proposed development, please take a look at their “buy a brick” campaign.

If you would like to ‘Buy a Brick’ then please click here

In the meantime, and in order to quickly and efficiently help with capacity issues to relieve the pressure on Milena and her wonderful team, OAT committed to relocating 100 of Milena’s rescues from Sarajevo to Just for Dogs in Derby in the UK for rehoming. You may recall our OAT 100 campaign last Christmas.  It has been a huge success and 89 of them are now safely here in the UK and 70 are already in their forever homes with a further 9 reserved for families undergoing home-checks.

OAT image WIDEWhilst I was in Sarajevo, I helped load a number of the OAT 100 dogs on to a happy bus bound for Just for Dogs in the UK. A few days later, I caught up with the bus on its arrival.

loading

New life

Hero 1
HERO – The special one….

One very special dog who stole my heart is Hero. An abandoned dog who was found tied to a tree. He came to Milena’s attention when someone reported that they had seen him tied up and witnessed him being stoned by a group of children. 😡 Milena rescued him and took him for veterinary care immediately.  Sadly one of his eyes was so badly damaged it had to be removed. According to an amazing eye specialist David Williams, who examined Hero on a pro bono basis last week, the other eye has a degenerative retinal disease meaning that he is blind in this eye and there is nothing that can be done to change this. However, he is well adapted to his disability as the blindness will have developed over a period of time.

At the moment Hero is being fostered by Team OAT, being the Olsen Family, their lovely housekeeping couple Rosa and Jose and myself. He is getting lots of love and attention and is settling in nicely. We are now looking for a suitable forever home for Hero so if you, or anyone you know, have the time to dedicate to this very special dog and would like to consider adopting him, please let us know and we will keep you posted on his progress. He will need a large garden to run free and regular lead walks for outside stimulation. We estimate he is 8/9 years old.

home sweet home

Special thanks goes to Maria Slough for allowing us to use some of her wonderful photographs in this blog 💕

Another thank you goes to my friends Andrew and Libby White who joined me on this incredible trip. They have a genuine love and interest in the work of SSS and indeed many other animal welfare and conservation projects.

If you would like to adopt a dog from SSS then please click here

to donate to the project please click here

That’s it for now, next stop Thailand in July to visit an elephant project – Mahouts Elephant Foundation…

 

 

 

 

 

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 😉

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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. 👍

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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