The Long Road Home…

This time it’s me (Sue) on the road and not Dave our OATOKE!  OATESS maybe?? 😗

Lion Rescue Trip

I have just returned from my third lion rescue trip with the Born Free Foundation. I must say I thought that it would become easier to deal with the roller coaster of emotions that such a journey evokes. I was very wrong, it has been just as emotional each time.

Its disheartening to think that these animals have been imprisoned for their entire life for human entertainment, but also heart-warming to know that there are amazing people and organisations that care about them. They not only care but make it their mission to give the luckier ones the dignity they deserve and provide them with a more suitable home.  Rescues also raise awareness for the plight of all wild animals in captivity and hopefully one day they will be considered as the sentient beings they are, and the exploitation will stop.

In the meantime, organisations like The Born Free Foundation, with the help of their supporters, including OAT and friends of OAT,  will continue their vital rescue work.

This most recent journey involved two lions rescued from a zoo and private ownership in Spain and France. Nelson (17) was from a French Zoo and Ciam (2) was confiscated from his owner who had kept him caged up in his back garden! Nelson and Ciam spent the last 3 years and 18 months respectively at a rehabilitation facility in Belgium Natuurhulpcentrum where they have been taken good care of whilst awaiting the go ahead to travel to Born Free’s big cat sanctuary located within Shamwari Private Game Reserve in South Africa.

The following pictures will tell the story……

Nelson & Ciam Crates

Lions loaded

I was delighted that on this occasion that my close friend Alicia Hosking who had expressed an interest in helping, came along on the trip. She not only gave her time but also contributed personally to the rescue costs and I am proud to say we are now jointly covering the costs of lifetime care for both Ciam & Nelson.

Rally for Conservation

You may remember that another close friend, David Simpson, accompanied me on a previous rescue of lions Black & Jora a few years ago. Inspired by this trip the Simpson family recently embarked upon a fund raising event, together with OAT. The purpose being to assist with the Ciam & Nelson rescue and contribute to general animal welfare and conservation work undertaken at Shamwari. It was a huge success and thanks to our very generous guests we were able to donate a significant sum of money.

Rally & Max & Jeff

Cars & bids

Funds raised and then the journey begins…

On the way

Nelson’s last health check before the final leg of the journey….

And finally…they are back in Africa where they belong!Ciam at Shamwari

Nelson at Shamwari

Open spaces for them to explore and new smells and noises to get used to, some of which may stir some distant ancestral memories.  All of this in the comfort and safety of their purpose built enclosures at the Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa.  Sadly, Ciam and Nelson cannot be returned to the wild as humans have robbed them of their natural survival instincts.  However, they will be very well taken care of by the Born Free team at Shamwari and fly the ambassadorial flag for other wild animals in captivity 🦁 🐒 🐘

UPDATE – Chimpanzee Conservation Centre in Guinea

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.

c01 Chris & chimps

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.

c03 The team & thank you

C05 volunteers

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.

c02 OAT encolsures

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.




Two first’s for OAT – Chimpanzees and West Africa

OAT recently agreed to support the Chimpanzee Conservation Centre (CCC) located within Haut Niger National Park in Guinea, West Africa. This is the first time we have supported a West African based project, but when we were made aware of CCC’s work and their urgent need to increase capacity,  we felt compelled to help. We have never travelled to this part of the world before either, so it’s a whole new area of exploration for OAT in general.


Dave, aka OATOKE, will be spending the next 10 days at CCC in Guinea getting to know the organisation, but due to the extreme remoteness of its location, he will probably not be able to update us on his findings until he returns. I thought therefore, that I would give you some background on the project in the meantime and why we feel so strongly about supporting it.

Chimpanzees, who are indigenous to west Africa, are regularly and illegally stolen from the wild. This is fuelled by the demand from foreign countries who are prepared to pay substantial amounts to own a pet chimp, and zoos and circuses who make huge profits from visitors paying to see these these poor creatures behind bars and being forced to perform in the name of entertainment. Buyers are willing to pay incredibly high prices for chimpanzees making it a very lucrative business.  Sadly, baby chimps aren’t the only victims of this dreadful trade and their parents / families who are shot during the capture,  often end up fuelling the illegal trade in bush meat.

Many organisations, some of whom we also support, are continuously fighting to combat illegal wildlife trade and when they are successful in their missions, chimpanzees are often confiscated and in need of rehabilitation. This is where CCC in Guinea come in to play, as they rehabilitate and where possible, return them to the wild. This process can sometimes take up to 10 years due to the extent of trauma experienced.  Those who are successfully rehabilitated are released, but sadly, for some of them this is just not possible. These chimps are then provided with life time care at the centre. CCC recently applied for funding to extend their facilities at the centre to enable them to rehabilitate more Chimpanzees in need and we agreed to help.

If we do manage to hear from our OATOKE On the ground, we will blog again, but in the meantime, here is some good news that we received from CCC a few days before he left.

It is an interesting story and will give you an insight into the extent of the work involved when dealing with the illegal trade in wildlife.

Sue  Olsen


Team OAT in Zambia

OAT recently returned from a weeks trip to Zambia where we visited various projects we support within the  Game Rangers International (GRI) group.

GRI – Zambia Primate Programme

06 Final Jeffrey Cosmas & Dave

The photo above shows me with Cosmas of the GRI – Zambia Primate Project (ZPP) with a young vervet monkey we rescued 18 months ago.  Like many monkeys, he had been illegally taken from the wild and kept as a pet which means he had probably been tied up most of his life.

07 ZPP & OAT copy

We caught up with Jeffrey again last week when we visited the GRI-ZPP release site within the Kafue National Park. This is where the primates go during the final stage of their rehabilitation. Troops are formed who are then monitored and cared for by Cosmas and his team until they are ready to be released.  We were so happy see vervet monkeys living wild and free considering the difficult start they had in life. I was especially happy to meet Jeffrey again who looked really happy, but I was very disappointed he didn’t remember me……….bloody ungrateful monkey ha ha ha 😂

The team photo above is me with ZPP staff, David, a friend and fellow animal lover, and Polly Mason, who has recently become a full time member of the OAT team.

GRI – Elephant Orphanage Project

03 Lilayi

08 Release camp

OAT have recently become a significant partner in this amazing project.  We visited the nursery facility on the outskirts of Lusaka where very young elephants spend the first part of their rehabilitation process, and thereafter, we went to the elephant release site facility in the Kafue National Park.

Jackie the Hippo

10 Jackie 3 shot

One of the key purposes of our trip was to discuss hippo Jackie and the next stage of her rehabilitation and release programme. Jackie was found abandoned a year ago, with her umbilical cord still attached and was rescued by Game Rangers International (GRI) –  Wildlife Veterinary Project (WVP).  OAT agreed to sponsor Jackie’s rehabilitation and release programme and we are now one year into the process.

Jackie is doing really well thanks to her dedicated team of carers and GRI’s wildlife vet Annekim Geerdes (pictured above) who works alongside a government vet to ensure Jackie’s health and wellbeing. We will keep you posted on her progress.

GRI – Kafue Conservation Project

We also spent time with GRI’s community outreach programme as well as their special anti-poaching unit. The woman’s initiative group we support were very grateful for their mosquito nets, and Stuart the pilot is really looking forward to getting the new anti-poaching plane up in the air. The aircraft is sponsored by OAT and the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation.

That’s it for Zambia, next stop Guinea and the Chimpanzee Sanctuary!  Will be communicating again soon!



Highs, Lows and Bears in Vietnam

I have just returned from a 3 day workshop in Vietnam hosted by Animals Asia, an organisation we are incredibly proud to be supporting. 😊

The Vietnamese government approached Animals Asia sometime ago asking for their help and guidance regarding the current elephant populations in Vietnam, both wild and captive. The aim of the workshop was to develop a comprehensive plan to improve the welfare of the captive elephant population and to address the current critically low, wild elephant population, estimated to be below 100. 🐘🐘


Another aim of the workshop was to support the government in its development of The Elephant Conservation Centre rescue facility. This is being designed for the rehabilitation of elephants rescued from tourist led activities such as elephant back riding.

The rescue centre is still in the infancy stage, but here are 2 young bull elephants currently being cared for.


On one of the days, delegates were invited to visit the largest tourist elephant riding camp in the area and I went along.  Witnessing what goes on behind the scenes was heart wrenching to say the least. To think that these poor elephants are taken from their mothers at a very young age, beaten into submission to enable them to be ridden, and to top it all, are chained up when not being ridden, is just unbelievable really. They suffer physically and mentally their entire life, but, as long as tourists insist on riding them, this cruel process will continue.  Please spread the word and tell everyone you know NOT to participate in this activity or indeed any activity that involves the exploitation of animals for their enjoyment. Its just not fair.


I also visited a zoo which Animals Asia are working with to improve the dismal day to day lives of these poor captive animals.  I can’t bring myself to share my photos of this with you, but like me, take some comfort in the a fact that Animals Asia are doing everything they can to improve captive welfare. Of course if we had our way, there would be no captive animals, but thank goodness Animals Asia are doing what they can for these animals whilst there is no alternative.

I ended the trip on a much more positive note when I went to see how building works were coming along on the new bear enclosure at Animals Asia’s bear sanctuary in Tam Dao National Park. OAT are co-funding the development of this enclosure that will increase capacity for more bears rescued from the horrendous Bear Bile industry.



Next stop Zambia 🇿🇲 in February and then Guinea 🇬🇳 in March. More on this later…………..

Tis the season…

As Christmas creeps up on us I wanted to wish you all a very merry one and a happy New Year!

2017 looks set to bring a lot more adventure on our mission to help animals! I’m off to Vietnam in January with a packed schedule including revisiting Animals Asia’s Bear Sanctuary and a proposed Vietnamese Elephant Conservation Centre. Feb/March I’m heading back to Africa. I look forward to sharing it all with you along the way.


Sleepless in…Zambia

Here is our animal welfare hero of the month – Cosmas, getting a taste of fatherhood with his latest rescue Chikondi, a tiny baby primate.

After a few sleepless nights, Cosmas decided the only way for both of them to get any sleep, was to have Chikondi sleep next to him. Serious dedication! 🐒🍼😆


Cosmas, project manager of Zambia Primate Project, rescues and rehabilitates many primates in Zambia and successfully releases them back in to the wild. However, when they are this tiny, they need constant care and attention so he regularly hands them  over to Anna & Steve Tolan of Chipembele. Chikondi is now in the loving care of Anna and Steve and enjoying the comfort of other rescued baby primates, Shadi and Pumpkin.  How cute are these photo’s?


Hot Off The Press!

I will be off to Africa and Asia again early next year to spend time with existing and new projects on the ground. I will keep you posted as always but in the meantime here  is some feedback of the fantastic things that have been happening lately…

The Mnkhanya Community

The Mnkhanya community in Mfuwe, South Luangwa Valley in Zambia 🇿🇲 have been putting the OAT sponsored bore hole and irrigation system to good use. Their vegetable garden not only feeds themselves, but also provides income as they sell the surplus to the local community. They have started producing Rape vegetables, lettuce and Sweety Battle spice which are all flourishing.  What a great example of how water can be used in a meaningful way to bring positive change!


The Mnkhanya scouts have also been working hard. Here they are at their Monday morning briefing before going out on de-snaring patrols. Every one of these snares is an animals’ life saved! 👍😀🐒🐘


Conservation Lower Zambezi

On my last last trip to CLZ, I met one of their students on their conservation programme. David Muzengeza David’s passion is the wildlife of Lower Zambezi and he would like to be a game ranger one day.

He was struggling with his studies due to a lack of course material.

OAT supplied him with everything he needs to pass his exams and now he’s studying hard and doing really well. Hopefully it wont be long until there is another passionate conservationist out in the bush making a positive difference for the wildlife.


Animals Asia

The program run by the dog and cat team in Guangzhou is also going very well! They gave some public talks in Chengdu last week about farmed and performing animals and there were more than 100 in attendance. A great boost for them, showing that more and more people are becoming interested in animal welfare 😁


Seventeenth Time Lucky? – CoP 17


Sue and I on the first day of the conference, looking relaxed and happy, little did we know what was coming our way…the clue was in the title – CITES – T for trade, and trade in animals! not a W for welfare in sight.


As the 17th CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP17) has drawn to a close this is what Born Free Foundation President and CEO had to say in a televised interview which is a must watch!

Will Travers Wraps up CITES #CoP2017     


Here is Will Travers’ closing statement at the conference:

“Thank you Madame Chair

I am speaking on behalf of the 100 member organisations of the Species Survival Network.

Madame Chair, may I also start by congratulating the Honourable Minister and Republic of S Africa for hosting this excellent Conference of the Parties.

I also want to thank all delegates for their hard work, together with the chairs of committees 1 and 2, and for your efforts Madame Chair.

I also want to express our appreciation to the Secretary General and all members of the CITES Secrétariat for keeping us on track and overcoming challenges along the way. And our thanks also go to the excellent translators.

Madame Chair, I would like to take this opportunity to reflect briefly on the outcomes of this conference.

CITES is a continuum where matters sometimes move speedily and sometimes take a long time to reach a conclusion. I recall, for example, that we have been discussing the impact of trade on African Grey Parrots for many, many years but it was at this CoP that Parties eventually agreed to place the species on Appendix 1. In addition, the Parties have acted decisively to include all eight species of pangolin in Appendix 1

CITES has brought its focus to bear in a powerful and significant way by listing in Appendix II the entire genus, over 300 species of Dalbergia, which have been, over a long period, subject to heavy and negative trade.

This demonstrates that sometimes this Convention can react firmly when circumstances demand.

We have also seen proposals that might have made matters worse for some of our most iconic species, rejected.

We have witnessed some lost opportunities that, to many in the outside world, will seem hard to understand. Madame Chair, I was attended CoP 13 in 2004 when a proposal to list African lions on Appendix 1 was withdrawn. That was at a time when the population of wild lions across Africa was probably double what it is today.   Now we have perhaps 20,000 wild lions and it seems somewhat bizarre to many that a new lion-listing proposal, presented by so many African Range States, was rejected.

Furthermore, at a CoP where we have rightly confirmed the process for ending the intensive breeding of tigers in captivity, we have reaffirmed the acceptability of the captive breeding and commercial sale of African lion bones into international trade, as a surrogate for tiger bone.

 Consistency is vitally important.

 As is courage.

The decision by the Government of Botswana to voluntarily treat the largest African elephant population as if they are on Appendix 1 is to be applauded as is the robust way that the Government of the People’s Republic of China has addressed the issue of domestic Ivory markets.

Madame Chair, we must never lose sight of the fact that the decisions made by delegates here have real-world impacts far beyond these conference halls. Whether on wildlife law enforcement, demand control, the survival of species, or the welfare of individual living animals.

And, of course, they may also have an impact on the security of those who risk and sometimes lose their lives protecting the species we care so much about – a thousand Rangers and wardens in the last 10 years.

In conclusion Madame Chair. I have often been asked whether CITES should continue, to which I say a resounding yes. This Convention may not be perfect. It may be complex and challenging. It may be misunderstood. It may not always reflect the desires and aspirations of citizens around the world. But, Madame Chair, it is the only Treaty we, and the animals and plants, have got. Were it not to exist I doubt we could create it anew.

So we must work with it. Support it. Demonstrate its relevance. Strengthen it. And make sure that as far as humanly possible it contributes to ensuring that the amazing array of wild animals and plants that inspire us, and with whom we share our one, single, world, are here for future generations to admire.

Thank you Madame Chair and, on behalf of the SSN, I look forward to seeing many familiar CITES faces at CoP18, which I hope will be hosted for the first time by the beautiful island of Sri Lanka.”


Sue Olsen’s take on it all:

It’s taken a few days to recover since arriving home from the conference and here is Sue Olsen’s (my sister and founder of OAT) words of reflection which sum up all of our views here at OAT.

During the conference (pictured above) unsurprisingly, Sue had some very strong opinions, but luckily I made sure the mic was unplugged so we weren’t kicked out or sent to jail! 😳😳😳

“I would like to say how honoured and proud I am to have attended my first CITIES with Will and the amazing Born Free team. I have witnessed first hand the incredible value of BFF and SSN’s participation here and indeed that of many other anti trade organisations. 

I has been a huge learning curve personally, and whilst it’s been interesting, I can honestly say it has not been an enjoyable experience. As someone rightly pointed out to me, this is not my spiritual home. If I had my way there would be no trade in animals at all as I believe they are not ours to commoditise. But then I am a bit of a purist and sadly we live in a realistic world.

Of course, this is a trade convention, so it’s all about trade,  but the fact that the commodity is animals, and that there is little or no emphasis on welfare, I find very distressing. Wading through the list of thousands of beautiful endangered species, who’s survival and well-being is based purely on their commercial value, I find quite surreal. God help the thousands of other species who aren’t even listed and therefore aren’t protected at all. Begin surrounded by hunting organisations, pet trade organisations, those involved in live animal trade and their body parts, and even consumptive “conservationists”, has been challenging to say the least. 

However, what has been truly inspiring, is to see the level of professionalism, dedication, passion and pure tenacity of those opposing trade. It is crucial that the likes of BFF and SSN continue their vital work in this arena and they should be loudly applauded for what they are achieving in an incredibly frustrating, complex and somewhat hostile environment. Thank goodness we have them, for the sake of animals and humanity in general, they are extraordinary.  There is a definite consensus that the tides are changing and the veterans believe this was a very successful CoP for those on our side.

And thats a wrap on OAT’s first CITES experience – and what an eye opener it  was! A saddened but not disheartened OAT Oke……… Much work to be done, onward and upward!

Conservation Education

OAT are so happy to have been able to help provide these children with an Environmental Education School Visit this week AND delighted to hear they got the chance to see a leopard and lion on their game drive. 🦁🎓 WELL DONE also to Mafungausti for your wonderful poem “The Voice of Conservation” – a budding young conservation activist in the making we hope……

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