We are now just at the end of the first ever Handshake project in Cameroon, and what an incredible project it’s been. Based in Mefou, a beautiful forest half an hour from the capital, Yaoundé, we are working with Ape Action Africa, a charity devoted to protecting Cameroon’s primates and their forest habitat. Founded in 1996 under the name Cameroon Wildlife Aid Fund, the charity has two sites of operation: Mvog Betsi Zoo in Yaoundé, and a sanctuary for orphaned and injured primates here in Mefou.
The Handshake team is here to document every aspect of Ape Action Africa’s work, from the animal husbandry that keeps staff busy round the clock, to routine vaccinations and complicated surgeries, and the community outreach and education programme which ensures the people living in and around Mefou benefit from having a primate sanctuary in their midst, and that the conservation message from Ape Action Africa is widely heard.
We are extremely privileged to be here surrounded by endangered apes and monkeys and the people who dedicate their lives to caring for them. The sanctuary in Mefou houses over 300 primates, including the iconic gorillas and chimps which give the charity its name. With the exception of a few surprise births within the sanctuary, every primate is here as a result of the illegal bush meat and pet trades, and habitat loss due to deforestation. Bush meat, originally hunted for subsistence by small groups of people, is now an international trade, and the effects on primate populations are poignantly illustrated here. For each baby chimpanzee or gorilla that ends up needing care in the sanctuary, five to ten members of its family will have been killed, and it’s hard to even estimate the numbers relating to those babies that never make it here and are therefore unaccounted for. Every primate here has a shocking story, and their survival is testament to the dedication of those who care for them – not only when they first arrive, but throughout their development.
Since our arrival in Cameroon, we have had the opportunity to speak to many of the people who have hand-reared the adult gorillas and chimpanzees who now roam enormous forest enclosures and dwarf most humans with their size and strength; we have seen the tonnes of food delivered to the sanctuary and carefully prepared each day, and we have learnt amazing things from everyone we meet. We’ve been able to film chimpanzees having crucial tetanus vaccinations and an alpha male mandrill having damaged teeth extracted, while vasectomies for several monkey species are ongoing. On Saturday, we were thrilled to be able to attend a meeting for community delegates, at which Ape Action Africa staff and residents of several villages surrounding Mefou discussed positive ways for collaboration in combating human-wildlife conflict and ensuring sustainable development. All the while, we see hundreds of examples every day of the passion, commitment and care that are the backbone of the organisation, and it is truly inspiring.
We will be uploading many more blogs, photos and videos on our return to the UK, but in the meantime, if you want to find out more about Ape Action Africa and support their work, check out www.apeactionafrica.org, www.facebook.com/apeactionafrica and www.twitter.com/apeactionafrica.