Looking after a baby gorilla isn’t easy, especially if you’re a human. Someone who knows this all too well is Appolinaire Ndohoudou, Controller at Ape Action Africa’s sanctuary in Mefou, Cameroon. Having worked here for 11 years, Appolinaire has been surrogate father for many of the gorillas here, including possibly the best known of the sanctuary’s residents, Shufai.
Shufai’s story is one that exemplifies the challenges and heartaches inherent in taking a traumatised and injured gorilla far too young to have been separated from its mother, nursing it back to health, and maintaining it to – and through – adulthood. Shufai was only a few months old when he arrived at the sanctuary in, bearing both mental and physical scars from his mother’s death. With bullets lodged in his head and left arm, and an intense fear of humans, he spent his first few days at the sanctuary hiding in a transport cage, while Appolinaire waited patiently in the same room, feeding him through the bars of the cage door and biding his time until he had gained enough of Shufai’s trust to be able to pick him up and assess his injuries.
As Shufai grew, it became apparent that the damage to his arm would continue to be a problem. Curving inwards and becoming increasingly painful, he was virtually unable to use his arm, so an operation was carried out to insert metal pins and try to straighten it. Though initially a success, by early 2013 it was clear that Shufai was still experiencing a lot of pain, so a further operation was scheduled to reposition the pins. When the veterinary team X-rayed and examined his arm under anaesthetic, they realised it was now beyond saving, and made the difficult decision to amputate the lower half of his arm to give him the best chance at a pain-free life. Eight months later, we have been lucky enough to witness Shufai climbing trees – something he was never able to do prior to the operation – playing with other members of his group, and lounging happily in the shade to contemplate the selection of food scattered around him. Appolinaire, visibly moved when remembering the anxious days around the operation, is delighted with the progress Shufai has made since March, happy to see him eating, running and interacting normally with the rest of his group.
The future for Shufai at Ape Action Africa now looks bright; he is not expected to need any further treatments or medication relating to his arm surgeries, and will remain in safe, forested surroundings at the sanctuary. The future for gorillas in the wild in Cameroon, as in so many of their range countries, however, does not look as positive. Sanctuaries like Ape Action Africa are full of gorillas like Shufai, and more continue to arrive. These are the orphans of deforestation and the trade in bush meat, and along with looking after them, sanctuaries are engaged in working towards solutions for the crisis. Ape Action Africa carries out community outreach and education programmes in Cameroon and vital awareness-raising work worldwide, hoping each time they receive an orphaned ape that it will be the last.
To support Ape Action Africa in taking care of Shufai and the other primates at the sanctuary, or to help fund their outreach initiatives, check out www.apeactionafrica.org/donate; or if you simply want to find out more about what they do, follow them on Facebook and Twitter.