This is rather a long blog, but there is some great video footage!
I have just returned from a very exhausting but amazing trip to North West Africa where I spent time with the people and rescued chimps of the Chimpanzee Conservation Centre (CCC). It took me 3 days to get to the bush camp where the chimps are located (London-Paris-Nouakchott which is in the Sahara desert and then Conakry). Once I arrived in Conakry, the capital city of Guinea I then had a 2-day drive on very bad dirt roads, which in itself was exhausting due to the intense heat, around 40 degrees Celsius………..Phew! 😲
The numerous military & police road blocks en route also slowed the journey down considerably, not to mention the various international aid organisations present on the ground dealing with the after effects of matters such as Ebola.
The Chimpanzee Conservation Centre (CCC) camp is located deep inside the Haut Niger National Park in a protected forest.
Here is a map showing location of Guinea on the African continent…
CCC currently has 53 rescued chimps who are all going through a rehabilitation programme which in some cases lasts for 10 years. 15 chimps were released in 2012 and are all doing very well living back in the wild. This was the last troop to be released but another troop is almost ready to be released and will hopefully go within the next 12 months but only after a suitable location within the national park and protected forest has been found.
Almost all of the rescued baby chimps are victims of ‘trafficking’ and have been confiscated by government authorities at road blocks and border crossings. Poachers go into the bush and hunt for chimps as a baby chimp is valued at approx. $30,000 on the black market. The poacher, the person who actually steals the baby from the wild will get approx. $2,000 per chimp. The poachers usually kill the whole chimp family (troop) as its far to dangerous to try and steal a baby from its mother (I’ve learnt first hand how strong they are!). The dead bodies of the family are sold in local markets for bush meat. The baby chimps are extremely traumatised as they have seen their mother and whole families shot and killed right in front of them. There is a high demand for baby chimps in the Middle East and China, where, if they survive the long journey in cramped cages, often without food and water for hours or even days, they will live out the rest of their lives in horrible zoos or as pets.
Chimps are our closet relation sharing 99% of our genes. They are highly intelligent and suffer high levels of stress just like humans. They also laugh and mimic each other which was weird for me to witness but very interesting and funny at times. It’s strange how much they resemble us humans or us them. When you look a chimp in the eye and it looks back at you its no different than looking in to the eye of a human being, what beautiful animals they are. If the truth be told, they are quite nasty to each other and are HUGE drama queens making a big song and dance (literally) about the smallest of issues but thats the way they are and the way they communicate. This was a reaction to my visiting this release troops enclosure, from a distance!
Below is a photo of me with Chris Colin, the Director of the CCC who is a qualified Vet and has worked with CCC for 18 years. Chris has been the Director of CCC for the last 2 years. Estelle Raballand was the Director before her and personally funded CCC for the year of 1999. Chris and her team are dedicated and very hard working animal lovers and carry out their work in extremely difficult conditions. They certainly sacrifice a lot doing what they all love to do.
I spent 5 days with Chris and her team that include permanent staff and volunteers and I shadowed the work included in the daily routine.
I spent time with various groups of chimps in their different enclosures, the babies the youngsters and the old ones. I felt desperately sorry for the older ones as sadly they will never return to the wild, just too much damage at the hands of humans, but at least they are receiving good lifetime care.
One of the most privileged experiences was walking with the pre release troop. Here are some videos I took whilst out walking with one of the troops with their cheeky dominant male Tango and the cute little ‘Missie’. All of the chimps in these videos have been rescued from some sort of horrible captive situation and are all undergoing rehabilitation due to high levels of stress, most of them will have witnessed their families being killed. The reason the CCC team walk with them everyday is to teach them what their mothers would have taught them, how to find food in the bush, how to find shelter from the HOT sun and also how to walk in a group (troop). It is vitally important they understand how to act and find their place in the troop before being released. The human interaction element is key to them learning how to become a well balanced troop and find their position within the hierarchy of their newly formed chimpanzee family.
In case you are wondering from the video, the ‘head touching’ is a greeting that chimps use when they are saying Hello and when they are looking for reassurance from a bigger and more dominant male, in this case it was Me. I was trained on basic chimp communication and how to read their body language and how to respond correctly. There are many many things to learn and I only learnt the basics to keep me safe. You will notice Tango getting jealous of me playing with the other chimps at times. Tango adopted me as his own, and as a chimp is 7 times stronger than an average man,
who am I to argue 😀.
During my visit I was able to see the work that has started on our OAT funded quarantine enclosures to be used for an imminent rescue. It’s by no means all the help they need, but it’s a start and we intend to make it OAT’s mission to do what we can and make a significant impact. I know they don’t look like much right now but these enclosures will enable the imminent rescue of 4 chimps current been illegally held in horrendous conditions. They will be confiscated and relocated to the CCC where they will receive the care they deserve and begin their journey back to freedom.
I will never forget this amazing trip and was truly humbled by the dedicated team at CCC as well as those who work with on the law enforcement side of things, but thats another story for another time. The living conditions at the camp are basic to say the least, no proper toilets and no running water so its down to the river every night for a wash or you wash out of a bucket. I did both, although washing in the river when there are crocs and hippos swimming nearby isn’t as relaxing or romantic as you might think, especially when its been 40 degrees celsius during the day. After a hard and HOT days work they can’t even have a decent shower and a glass of cold water. The camp has no running water and no electricity or solar system so it’s candles and warm water day after day and night after night.
I congratulate them all for helping to save our closest relation and I wish them continued success. CCC are looking to upgrade and expand their current rehab facility and are desperately looking for new funders. I was the first donor to visit this rescue facility in 14 years………OMG. The day I was leaving I asked them what they needed and they only asked for items relating to the chimps and nothing for themselves………..its all about the chimps for this amazing bunch of dedicated animal warriors. I have HUGE amounts of respect for them!!!!!!
That’s it for now but will be in touch again soon suggesting ways in which you can help us to help them and get involved!
In the meantime, here are a few interesting facts about chimpanzees that I picked up along the way:
- There are 4 species of chimps living across 21 countries in Africa, they all live in or near to equatorial regions (Western chimps / Eastern chimps / Common chimps / Niger – Cameroon chimps).
- A troop always has one dominant male.
- Males stay in one territory whereas females will move on after giving birth and find another troop to allow genetic mixing.
- Females reach their sexual maturity at approx. 8 years old.
- Mothers give birth to single babies, twins are extremely rare.
- Like humans chimps have a very low rate of reproduction.
- Babies are weaned at approx. 4 years of age.
- 30% of chimps in the wild die before reaching the age of 5yrs.
- 3 main reasons for cause of death of chimps (poaching-trafficking / disease / habitat loss).
- Chimps have been seen using herbs in the wild to heal themselves – how amazing is that! 😮
- There are currently 16 x chimp sanctuaries in Africa but due to various reasons only 2 have release programmes. It is extremely difficult to rehabilitate a chimp and can take up to 10 years.
- 85% of chimps trafficked out of Africa are from Guinea.