Ape Action Africa
We were invited by friends to go to Cameroon's
Mefou Primate Park, close to Yaoundé.
The park is operated by Ape Action Africa, which is a nonprofit NGO dedicated to primate rescue and rehabilitation. Their goals are to address threats faced by gorillas and chimps in Africa and to work with communities to develop long-term solutions to ensure the animal's survival in the wild.
One of the main issues in Cameroon is that primates are used by the locals as food. In fact, eighty percent of the meat eaten in Cameroon is killed in the wild and is known as "bushmeat". The nation's favored dishes are gorilla, chimpanzee or monkey because of their tender flesh. According to one estimate, over 3,000 gorillas are slaughtered in southern Cameroon every year in order to supply the commercial (albeit illicit) demand for ape meat. This does not only affect the adults, but the babies are then left as orphans with many dangers around them.
Ape Africa wants to change the way that Cameroonians view primates. Their organization goes into the schools and into the communities to educate the local population. Not only do monkeys carry the Ebola virus, they also harbor many other diseases, which are passed on to the humans that consume them. In fact, AIDS, the worst pandemic of modern times, is thought to have begun in the rainforest of West Central Africa as a result of the bush meat trade.
In order for Ape Africa to do the rescue and rehabilitation work needed on a limited budget, they solicit the help of international volunteers. Willing participants come for 1-2 months at a time to assist in the care of the animals. The very rustic building above is where the volunteers live during their stay.
Some of the volunteers were cooking a meal when we arrived, so
we could clearly see that this is a labor of love and conviction!
Other animals are seen in the Mefou Park, including this goat
standing right off the main path.
The signs point the way to the main attraction of the
park - the primate living areas.
The jungle in this area is lush and it seemed surreal to walk
where scenes of "Tarzan" episodes could have been filmed.
"We rescue orphaned and injured gorillas and chimpanzees, some only days old, hours from death. Once they are in our care, we work around the clock in the Mefou Primate Park to give them urgent veterinary care and nourishment."
"In the protected zone at Mefou, safe from poachers, the animals are cared for by our trained experts, many of them local community members who have joined our team. Eventually, when the young orphans are strong enough, we reintroduce them to groups of their own kind in safe and controlled environments."
The organization has different primates separated by breed and age groups in large, natural enclosures. It was interesting to watch how they interacted with us as we came by. Some of them watched us intently, while others were clearly bothered by our appearance.
"We are committed to identifying areas that can be set aside as protected habitat for rescued gorillas and chimpanzees. It is our hope that one day the great apes and monkeys in our care will be released back into the wild, where they belong."
Your U.S. tax dollars are at work in Cameroon - for a very worthy project.
Protecting the primates help in protecting the people of West/Central Africa, which in turn protects us ALL from the spread of preventable diseases.
These are teenage chimpanzees and they provided the most interesting interaction of the day. After the largest male watched us for a short time, he jumped up, grabbed a stick and bellowed. He then ran about 20 yards across the front of the pen, drawing a line with the stick across the sand. We were clear that the line in the sand was his way of marking off the area that we should not cross. He ran back and forth a few times 'threatening' us with his voice and clapping loudly before he settled down - turning his back to us for the rest of the 'visit.' I've always heard about the proverbial 'line in the sand'. Now I have seen it firsthand!
The park has approximately 350 primates in their care with 110 chimps and 20+ gorillas. Once they leave the veterinary care and go into the pens, it is sometimes a struggle to keep them in. These animals are smart and constantly figure out how to get out. Electric fences help - and most of the pens have two separate barriers.
As we walked in the jungle, we were amazed at the different types of trees and plants. I looked up and couldn't resist a picture of the light shining through. What beauty!
This is a male mandrill - one of the largest monkeys in the world and related to the Baboon family. They live only in the rain forests of equatorial Africa and they are endangered since many Africans consider them to be a great delicacy. Their faces are hairless with a very distinctive red and white color, which becomes brighter when the animal is excited. Their cheeks have built-in pouches that are used to store food for later consumption. They also have yellowish or golden beards and are considered to be the most colorful male mammals. The females are lighter in color with less distinctive tones.
Mandrills (males) are also known for their colorful rumps, which are bright blue and pink, depending on age. The colors make it easier to follow in the jungle and apparently the colors attract the females. Mandrills live in troops (or hordes), which are headed by dominant males and may include a dozen or more females and young. They are mainly terrestrial monkeys and they move with long arms to forge for fruits, small animals and roots on the ground. They typically climb up into the trees in order to sleep.
Ncarla, a female gorilla, was rescued as a baby and still lives in Mefou.
This is her footprint in 2009.
This baby was stressed when we walked up. He went to his mother for comfort. We were clearly bothering them to be close by. Many of these animals have seen men slaughter their family members, so seeing a strange human could be bothersome.
These chimps were holding hands, probably as a comfort move around us.
However, this little guy was most interested in entertaining us.
He was comical in showing off for our group!
The Mefou Primate park was well marked with paths
through the jungle to the next enclosure.
While the park is rustic and true to nature, it was also well done overall. Emphasis was placed on the care of the animals instead of the surroundings, which was impressive.
This is a Western Lowland Gorilla which is indigenous to equatorial Africa.
The gorilla is the largest living primate, characteristically a stocky animal with broad chest and shoulders, large hands, and forearms which are much shorter than the upper arms. The face is hairless and black in color, with small eyes that are close together and large, very prominent nostrils.
This male just stared at us, finding us as interesting as we found him.
I found it informative to learn that the gorillas are emotionally more fragile than the chimps - especially after trauma. They respond like humans and can shut down completely and die of a broken heart.
This HUGE male gorilla is referred to as a Silverback, which is the mature, experienced male leader of the troop in the wild. The silverback is responsible for the safety of his group and also makes the decisions for food and shelter. The silverbacks frequently show off their strength by tearing off branches and shaking trees.
We were fascinated with this gorilla. She discovered that wood was not a conductor of electricity and used the branch to lift the electrical wires.
She wanted something right outside the fence and was able to stick her hand through with the help of the wood and retrieve it. Thankfully there were two sets of electrical fences, but my guess is that she could figure out a way to get out if she really wanted.
As we were leaving the forest, we were amazed at the size of the Obeche trees. These hardwoods grow only in the tropical part of West Africa and are used for lumber, both locally and as an export product.
The trees grow to over 100 feet tall and have a trunk diameter of 5 feet. We often see these huge trees loaded on trucks going through Douala.
At the exit of Mefou Park, I was happy to see some traditional mud houses up close.
The houses are rectangular structures made of dried-mud bricks and thin posts. Roofs are sometimes made of thatched raffia palm, but more commonly seen with corrugated aluminum or tin.
I liked this picture of the Park workers' laundry hanging outside one of the houses. This is so typical of what we see and a good exampleof daily life in this part of Cameroon.
Our day at Mefou Primate Park was wonderful and a rare glimpse into the life of the bush. What a great opportunity to see life in the wild up close and personal!