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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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...

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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: Website: http://dianicampsite.com/ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/diani-campsite-and-cottages/89227530196 tripadvisor: http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Hotel_Review-g775870-d1961706-Reviews-Diani_Campsite_and_Cottages-Diani_Beach_Coast_Province.html...

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Sossi Recipe


Posted By on Oct 4, 2013

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 Method 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. By...

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My time in Kenya


Posted By on Oct 4, 2013

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...

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