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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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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A Week in Cameroon

Posted By on Oct 20, 2013

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...

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Getting Up Close to the Apes

Posted By on Oct 17, 2013

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?...

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