Well, what a wonderful way to spend the afternoon - being a playmate to four young chimpanzees...
These chimps are orphans and they are too small to join the rest of the chimps for the moment. Some have been hand reared by other volunteers. They LOVE to have human friends to play with. Before I entered their playground I had to remove everything that they could get hold of: bandana, necklaces and anything in my pockets as they are very adept at picking pockets. As soon as I let myself in I was covered in chimpanzees! From head to foot, they were clinging on to me and thought it was wonderful fun. Boy, was I hot! Their little bodies are really warm and hairy. Actually chimps' hair is very couse, I always thought it might be softer.
I sat on a rock while they continued their assault of this new ape. They were climbing all over me and also jumping on my head. They are so strong - even at that age! After a while things settled down and most of them left me alone and went back to their play. The smallest one, a little girl, was being pulled about by her arms and legs by the others, especially the biggest one. So I told him off and she was screaming and ran to me and clung to me like there was no tomorrow, oh she was so desperate for my protection from the bully boys. The big chimp took to swinging from a tyre and kicking me with a well-aimed foot, or jumping on me, or running up behind me and thumping me on the back, hard. (Like being at school, in the playground). And he was generally trying to bother the little chimp. So eventually I became the prime ape by screaming at him as chimps do and raising my hand, so he ducked and showed submission. This little exchange went on for quite a while until, at last, he was, quite literally, licking my boots! And the little monkey fell asleep in my arms: bliss. When I had to leave it was very difficult to prise her off me.
I went home with Liesbet and Little Monkey. In the meantime a new volunteer arrived, Monica from the US. She has just spent 6 months working in the Cameroon forest looking after chimpanzees, so she thinks our cockroach-ridden house is like a hotel!
Emily joined us all and we walked up the track to the local shops, which are wooden shacks. We bought some fish and bread and beer and took it back for a feast, including my mayonnaise. I let Liesbet have Little Monkey in her room as she loves her so much. Liesbet is a sensitive, caring lady. She also loves Mowgli, the cat, who also behaves like a little monkey, jumping around and generally causing havoc.
My second day on quarrentine. I helped Frou give the baby chimps their milk, a lovely task. Then I made Little Monkey's milk and fed her too and fetched her some breakfast from the kitchen - banana and orange.
I had a wonderful time photographing some yellow weaver birds who were nesting in the trees.
I had an even more wonderful time photographing two nursing mother chimps with their little offspring. I thought they might be aggresive towards me but gradually they trusted me, which was fantastic. I began by filling a bottle with water and feeding it to the mothers. They gulped and guzzled whilst all the time looking me directly and profoundly in the eye. I was so touched when they eventually showed enough trust for me to actually touch their babies. But I didn't do much of this as I didn't want to push it.
This morning they tried to introduce Little Monkey to a female preuss monkey who is in quarrentine with a bad leg. But she was not a bit interested. However, the two funny-looking putty nose guenons in the cage next door took a great interest, and LM was quite curious about them too. Apparently occasionally cross species will adopt offspring, so maybe this will happen?
Had a very interesting conversation with Frou. He is a very intelligent man who did two years of a geology degree, which he is now continuing part-time due to lack of funds. We had an indepth discussion about George Bush, American and African politics: very informative. Afterwards I asked about his family and he told me that his mother had been killed. I said I was sorry and that when did this happen? He told me it was only a month ago: she had been walking home from the fields and someone had hit her on the head a couple of times with a rock or something. Well, I could not believe it, I felt so sorry, he was being so brave and I just weeped. He seems like a good man - what a thing to happen. But we both belive that she is now here with him and can share in what he does with the animals every day, which must be some kind of comfort - I know it would be for me.