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.
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 Park.
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.
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!
By Micheal Jordan
Life in Cameroon is ever changing, there is a vibrant feeling in the air that fills you with energy. As I write this I have Diego the cat sat on my lap purring away, while rain is starting to come down and distant rolls of thunder draw ever closer. There’ll be a big storm tonight.
It’s hard to try and give you a feeling of what it is like here in Mefou. We sleep in a set of dorm rooms sandwiched between rainforest with a baby chimp enclosure on one side and an adolescent gorilla enclosure behind us that holds Nkan Daniel’s group.
A tree has just fallen on the baby chimp enclosure, hopefully there won’t be any little escapees today!
Within a few days the forest started to feel like home., already it seems like we have been here for months. After our orientation with the primate handshake crew, we had a tour with one of the local guides who showed us around the Mefou sanctuary. Walking about the place you start to realise just how big the sanctuary is and what a challenge it must be to look after all of the sanctuaries various inhabitants.
Daily life is a mixture of filming and editing for different videos the sanctuary would like us to make for them. On Tuesday, I spent the day perched on a water tower to get some shots of the gorillas for a video update on Shufai and how Gorillas are disappearing in the wild here in Cameroon.
It’s enthralling to see the passion that many of the staff here show for the work they are doing. You can see it in their eyes when they are being interviewed.
I’ve also had the chance to film one of the most engaging things that I’ve probably ever seen. A Mandrill was brought in to have some teeth removed as they were causing him considerable pain and he was starting to lose weight. Due to the limited facilities available here, the vet had to use a power drill and a scraper rather than a dentistry drill. It was certainly tough to watch, but already he seems to be up and about, feeling much better for having them removed.
Anyway, It’s almost time for tea here. Chips and sauce tonight, I suppose some things don’t change…
What made you want to join the primate handshake?
I’ve always been fascinated by animals, all sorts of animals, but I was first drawn to apes when I visited a zoo in Barcelona and met one of their resident Orangutans. While it was great to see such an awesome animal up close, I would much rather have seen him out and about in his natural habitat.
Since then I had been on the lookout for an opportunity to get involved with some of the amazing organisations that help out animals who are in danger of having their habitats destroyed, or who have been injured or orphaned as a result of poaching. MJ, a friend and work colleague, is well known for his penchant for all things primate and having spoken to him about the subject, a few months later I’m sitting in a forest in Cameroon, surrounded by apes (not so dissimilar to my job at home it must be said!) helping to document the work that Ape Action Africa are doing here to care for young and injured primates.
I’ve just recently developed an interest in photography and what better way to practice than to snap some awesome animals in an amazing location for a great cause. The Primate Handshake involves all three of these aspects so it was a no brainer.
What is your background and how does it relate to the trip?
Working as an engineer for a race team, there’s not a great deal of crossover between my day to day job and my passion for animals. Perhaps working in a technical environment, so different from the great outdoors, has spurred me on to spend more of my spare time surrounded by nature, who knows?
What are your first impressions of Mefou?
I was met at the airport upon arrival by one of the very friendly rangers of Mefou National Park. Following a short drive on ‘normal’ roads, we headed off piste down a narrowing, rutted, muddy track towards the park. The first thing that struck me when I arrived, in the dead of night, was the soundtrack playing outside the windows of my accommodation. A cacophony of insect and birdsongs played long into the night. Dawn was broken to the sound of one (persistent) rooster and the baby chimp living next door. Gorillas live literally 10ft behind our accommodation and appear to be as curious about us as we are of them. Writing this half way through Day 1 of the trip I’ve already seen so much. I can’t to see what’s around the next corner.
What do you hope to gain from the trip?
Having typically spent my holidays to date in more ‘traditional’ locations, as corny as it may sound, I was keen to spend more of my free time on worthwhile causes rather than simply relaxing by a pool.
Michael Georgallis tells us about his first experiences in Mefou and why he decided to join the handshake in Cameroon.
What made you want to join the Primate Handshake??
First of all, I enjoy travelling a lot, so experiencing something new with the handshake as a guide follows part of my dream to travel the world and to experience new cultures and ideas.
I love a good adventure – something that is new and exciting with an element of exploration was right up my street. I’ve never been to central Africa and don’t know many people that have, let alone stayed at primate a sanctuary in the middle of the rainforest. It was an opportunity not to miss.
As a keen amateur photographer, I enjoy taking pictures of things I’ve seen and sharing them with others. I feel a great satisfaction with getting a good photograph when the right things to come together it always gives you a great sense of pride in your work.
I suppose one of the main reasons I’m here, is to do with my friends Lucy and Mike who shared similar passions of adventure and conservation. They also shared their passion for primates and that made me want to learn more about them.
What is your background and how does it relate to the trip?
I come from a very technically focussed environment, I design and guid race cars for a living, it is a completely different world here in Cameroon to what I am used to.
Quite honestly, I have no real experience with primates or conservation as such, but I have always dreamt about heading to the amazon to catalogue tropical fish as a marine biologist. Tropical life and biology has been something that has always held a great interest for me, so having the chance to go a trip to a similar climate with my friends while also getting to learn about primates and conservation seemed like a no brainer.
I’m an avid cyclist and runner, having the chance to compete in a few Triathlons this year. Pushing myself to go further and improve is something I always aspire to in everyday life and I felt I could contribute to that goal with the handshake trip by broadening my horizons and seeing a different side of the planet.
The opportunity was there for the taking and I went for it, with a once in a lifetime experience like this – it was impossible to say no. All of the aspects came together, volunteering and helping people, conservation and primates. Somewhere you can see these great apes in a sanctuary much closer to their natural habitat – the closest thing I’d experienced before coming here was London zoo.
What are your first impressions of Mefou?
On the plane, I had no idea what to expect, my imagination stopped at the airport, it was a completely new continent and experience for me. It was very hard to know what was going to happen, even from the get go.
As soon as I saw Kennedy, our driver from the airport, I knew this was going to be a special trip – something out of the ordinary was about to happen. In the truck on the way down Magique System came on the radio. It was like a dream, something so familiar to me in such a foreign land. Amazing.
Just a few hundred metres away from the airport you realise just how rural Cameroon is, the forest is right there and something you hardly see in any other city I’ve been. Driving down the dirt road to the sanctuary in the back of a 4×4 as there are lightning storms rolling over the hills on the horizon, the sense of adventure really starts to kick in.
One of the things that really hit me was the sound of the Jungle at night, the noise and volume is incredible.
What do you hope to gain your experience here in Cameroon?
To see these great animals up close and getting the experience of helping to conserve them, while also improving my photography and media skills is a great opportunity.
I am here to learn and experience new things. I hope to learn much more about Cameroon, to see how people live here, learn more about the primates at the sanctuary and understand why they’re here in the first place. It is important for me to understand what work people do here to care for the primates that have been orphaned by the bush meat trade and poaching. The next step for me is to see how we can help and what people like me at home in the UK can do to for sanctuaries like Ape Action Africa.
Our home for the twelve days of the Wildlife Handshake has been Diani Campsite and Cottages, a beautiful location just minutes away from the beach and bustling markets, and within easy reach of Shimba Hills National Reserve.
With self-catering cottages, swimming pool, a fun and relaxed bar and restaurant and plenty of room for camping, this has been the perfect spot for us to live and work, and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed being here.
Along with the comfortable and roomy accommodation, we’ve been able to get to know the lovely, friendly staff and befriend the dogs and cats that lounge in the grounds. We’ve also enjoyed the food at the bar when we’ve been too tired to cook, and the swimming pool has provided a great way to cool down after a long day of work.
We’d all recommend Diani Campsite and Cottages for working trips or holidays; it’s got just the right mix of feeling at home and feeling excited to be surrounded by beautiful scenery and new experiences.
More information can be found at:
Ingredients (serves 8)
- 250g soy mince/pieces
- 2 cans chopped tomatoes
- 2 large fresh tomatoes
- 3 garlic cloves
- 2 onions
- 1 tbsp tomato puree
- 1 tbsp paprika
- 1 tbsp sugar
- Cook the fresh tomatoes, chopped onion, garlic and spices until soft.
- Add the soy, tomatoes, tomato puree and sugar. Simmer for 20 minutes.
- Serve with pasta.
It has been two weeks since I flew out to Kenya, at that time there was a mixture of emotions; excitement for the weeks ahead, nervousness for meeting new people and some sadness that I would not be able to see my friends and family for a while.
After an almost four hour long car journey to the backpackers accommodation, Stilts, I met Anna, we had previously spoke online before the trip so it was not as awkward a first meeting as some can be. We spent the rest of the day just in the bar at Stilts getting to know each other. The next day Sam and Alex arrived and once they were ready we went out for a walk in the rain. It was great that we all got on so well, being only four people it was easy to get to know each other.
We went our ‘luxury’ Handshake cottage on Monday, where we moved in with Lucy, Emily, and Laurence. Once the two days of orientation were over we got our Wildlife Handshake T-shirts! It felt like we were part of a team.
The next five days we were all busy being driven here, there, and everywhere to film the projects. There are some amazing and inspiring people living and working here. They are all trying to earn a living whilst living in harmony with the animals. My favourite project was “The Blind Tree Nursery.” These people have come together to earn their living planting trees and selling them as seedlings. These people do not want handouts, they do no want people to feel sorry for them, and they do not complain that they have a disability.
We could all learn a lot from people that are like this. I know in England I complain far too much and when you put it in perspective, is it worth the effort of complaining?
This Handshake experience has been the best of my life, when I first signed up to do this I thought we would be seeing more wildlife but this was not to say I have been disappointed. In fact, this was better as we got to see how the people live. That is not to say I haven’t seen any wildlife, there are monkeys everywhere! And when we went to Shimba Hills on safari, we got to see plenty of different animals. We also did a 4km walk to the beautiful natural waterfall there.
Tomorrow afternoon, I fly back to England and once again my emotions are all over. I do not want to leave this amazing country and the amazing people I have met but I do miss the people at home. I wish I could stay longer and experience more but I have a feeling that I will be back on another Handshake soon.