Caring for a Baby Gorilla


Posted By on Nov 5, 2013

  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...

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Oliver Upton, 5 Years Later


Posted By on Oct 29, 2013

Ollie has arrived in the Cameroon jungle ready to start another handshake having been a volunteer at the very first handshake in South Africa 5 years ago. He has always said that if a short trip came up involving gorillas he would like to be involved. Ollie works in television as a researcher but has become more and more interested in the filming side of things and has completed a wildlife filming course this year. He would like to pursue this interest particularly looking in to filming gorillas with a firm conservation message behind it . The interests in the natural world started whilst at university where Ollie wanted to explore the connection between humans and nature using film. He first heard about the handshake at a talk on a wet, foggy day in Aberyswth and was instantly intrigued by the charities vision and now on his second trip this is unlikely to be his last. Ollie describes the sanctuary as ‘the proper jungle,’ full of life and not just some zoo or a park. The 5km drive in off the beaten track immediately set the scene as the truck precariously negotiated the craters in the road. Well travelled and fresh from a trip to Peru Ollie is admittedly quite tired but being ‘in the middle of nowhere’ and surrounded by the hum of the forest is an instant refresher. Ollie recognises the luxuries we have at home compared to here with no internet, showering with a cup of water and sipping a good cup of English breakfast tea but these are all things you forget in the splendour of Mefou National...

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Arriving in a Forest Late One Night


Posted By on Oct 28, 2013

In 2012 Cat took part in The Primate Handshake in Uganda. Kat had heard about Ape Action before and as a fan of Gorrilas, when she heard the handshake were doing a project with Ape Action, she jumped on board, keen to add to her growing experience in conservation. Kat works for PTES (The Peoples Trust for Endangered Species), as an administrative officer. As quite a bit of this work is behind a desk Kat wanted to do rid herself of that piece of wooden furniture for a bit and get a bit more hands on conservation work, feeling its important to do something worthwhile whilst traveling. Arriving by night in a pick up truck from the airport, the sounds and smells of the jungle rushed back to Kat, reminding her of her time in Uganda. She quickly found the sanctuary to be bigger than she expected, the project to be bigger than she expected, and there to be lots to help out with. All great in Kats mind, as was the experience of being out in the middle of no where. Kat is looking forward to filming the great apes, and spending time with them, watching their activities. She feels she could do this all day, but one thing fills her with dread, the idea of awaking at night to find herself face to face with a scorpion, but she’s thinking this hopefully shouldn’t happen. Other conservation volunteering trips often require months to be taken off work where as this is shorter and you get to work with digital media, something that’s increasingly important now-a-days. It’s not something you’d think of initially but communication is vital in getting a message out to people; believes Kat who also states that another key reason for coming back on a handshake was to spend more time with Laurence, Lucy and Emily… a bit weird Whilst in the depths of the jungle Kat says the luxuries she will miss most are a warm bed and being clean all the time. Before her first handshake trip Kat hadn’t done much traveling, she wanted to change this and improve on her experience of digital media, which she uses at work. She hopes to add to all this on this new adventure. And I’m sure the Gorillas are looking to seeing her...

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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...

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This is Sammy’s first handshake and she heard about it through staff member Lucy, whom she knows back home in Bristol. For years Lucy had been telling stories and anecdotes from her time on various Handshake trips and talking of the projects that she has visited and the species that are in danger. Lucy’s enthusiasm caught on and Sammy wanted to find out more about these projects, and about Africa, for herself and so signed up to the Cameroon trip! Being a physiotherapist back home, it is quite different to her normal daily life, but travelling itself isn’t unknown to Sammy; she has ventured to Malaysia, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and New York before but this is her first trip on African soil. Her first impressions of Cameroon is that it is unlike anywhere else she has been, as we are staying in ‘pure jungle’ with sounds and smells you can only experience in the heart of it. When first driving up the muddy, uneven, 5km path from the main road to Ape Action Africa the journey didn’t quite agree with her and attempted to find the French word for ‘vomit’ to explain to the driver that she was feeling slightly queazy…with various hand gestures and a cracking French accent I think she got the point across in the end, and the driver found it quite hilarious! Having walked into several spider webs already, Sammy is most fearing walking into one with  great big spider in the middle! The lack of a shower and constant battle with dirty feet will ale a while to get used to But seeing and studying the animal behaviours and spending some proper, quality time around them, outside of a zoo, is what will make this trip a totally unique and enjoyable experience. Sammy also has a vested interest in people and communication, so integrating with the local communities and finding out about a day in the life of a Cameroonian is what she hopes to learn from her time here. Next year, Sammy is embarking on year long round the world trip and is hoping to visit various animal sanctuaries along the way to learn even more about wildlife conservation and help out wherever she can – so the Primate Handshake is already having a lasting effect on Sammy like it has on so many of their volunteers. And if the primates have any niggling muscular injuries, they now have their own private physiotherapist to call upon who would be more than to help out!...

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