Last updated on February 5, 2012
It all begins with the first rain shower. From the dry, barren areas to the fresh shades of green and the smell of clean air! The dry October heat pounds off the dusty dirt roads, the trees and open flood plains wilt under the sun’s rays. Then, there in the far distance, the early rain clouds gather, the sounds of thunder echo across the skies, the odd lightening flashes can be seen. Even the chimpanzees are feeling the heat as they lay around in shady spots watching and waiting for the rain. Finally, it happens. Dark clouds surround us, people are running for shelter, only a few of the brave chimpanzees sit out in the open waiting to feel the first drops. Before we know it, the heavy rain drops are beating down on the tin roof of the house.
Hours later, there is a new smell in the air as the rain has settled in the dust and patches of puddle appear on the ground around us!
Normally in the month of November we do not have much rain but this year it started off well on November 1st, and by the end of the month, Dad’s old rain gauge had recorded 776mls (30.5 inches).
Why is the grass always greener on the other side?
Dominic was busy preparing the midday meal for the chimpanzees recently when Misheck, a new member of the staff, looked up from counting out bush oranges and noticed three chimpanzees — Alice, Cindy and DeeDee — playing in my back garden. Alarmed, he called out to Dominic “There are chimpanzees playing in the garden.” Dominic, of course, did not believe him as he was sure that he was watching the wild vervet monkeys in the trees. But seeing the shocked look on Misheck’s face, Dominic thought it would be best if he checked anyway. On walking out of the food store room he came face to face with Gus, then Toto carrying Dominique on his back, with Sims holding onto Toto’s rear — just four of the 13 chimpanzees that had made an escape .
“I shouted, ‘Chimpanzees are out!’ Dominic said. “Looking straight at Toto, I then shouted in Bemba, ‘Eewee-Eewee,” and began to the threaten them all with the stick I was carrying. Sims, our hand-reared youngest, thought I was playing and he approached me all puffed up, ready for a game. Meanwhile, Toto knew this was no game as he hooted and panted out to the other chimpanzees, and being the leader of this group, all the chimpanzees stayed closed to him. Gus, the closest to Toto, puffed himself up and came rushing towards me and tried to bite, as if to try and protect the leader. I called his name, so he returned to Toto’s side.
Bili get Serious
”It was then that Toto picked a handful of sand from the ground and threw it at me. Meanwhile, the younger chimpanzees still remained behind Toto, not knowing what to do. Having worked with chimpanzees for 15 years I knew the worst thing to do now was panic, so instead I once again called out “Eewee-Eewee” in a stronger voice. My challenge meant nothing to the chimpanzees, but it was then that Bili saw his chance to challenge me. He approached me all blown up and I knew it was time to call for back-up. Calling out to the other workers to come to my aid, Misheck was the first one to come to my side. Having watched me call out “Eewee-Eewee” he thought he would follow in my foot steps by calling out the same to Bili (pictured below). Much to all our surprise, Bili did not like this and rushed over to Misheck and pushed him over. Dominique then shouted at Bili who knew he had done wrong so he climbed up the nearest tree.
“Meanwhile Madonna, Karla and Hans had wandered away from Toto’s side and were heading back to the open door of the enclosure. Once inside, I managed to close the door and move the three chimpanzees into the night cages. At last three where locked inside – just another 10 to bribe back into the night cages. Toto was unsure of what to do now that his followers had left his side, but little Dominique still remained seated on Toto’s back while Sims stood next to Toto. “Grabbing a handful of peanuts and biscuits I walked towards one of the night cages and opened the door. Toto was only too happy to follow me, knowing he was going to get the reward. My plan worked and they all followed me. It was not long before the three of them where safely locked inside the night cage. Cindy, Alice and DeeDee were not that easy to convince but after what seemed like ages they thought it was OK and went inside too. Bili could be seeing playing once again on the verandah, but when I called his name he rushed over and greeted me like a long lost friend, and then greeted Misheck and the rest of the staff with soft panting noises.’”
Once everything was back to normal I asked Dominic how the chimpanzees had gotten out. It turns out Alice had managed to stick her fingers through the very small grid wire on the enclosure and slowly, slowly play with the lock between her fingers until she managed to break it, knocking the other pins out. It surely took some time but she had the patience.
Nick the vervet
On Sunday, November 30, Andrew went to greet the visitors who had just arrived, only to find them carrying a very small box. He could clearly hear the cries of a baby vervet monkey. The visitors asked if Sheila Siddle was available so Andrew brought them straight to the house. Peering through the opening of the box, all Mom could see were two wide, frightened eyes peering back at her. Weighting less than a kilo (2.2 pounds), Mom took the baby infant into her hands. The poor little creature was nothing but skin and bones, but holding it close to her chest the infant just held on as if he knew it was going to be safe. We do not know the full story except that one of our friends, Nick O’Connor, had taken the baby away from someone that was mistreating it, and that Nick had spent many hours with the infant to keep it alive.
On examining the vervet, Mom found that the lower part of its tummy was raw, proof of where a rope had been tied, ripping the skin away. It was not long before little “Nick” – as we came to call him — had fallen asleep in Mom’s arms. Nick has been with us for two weeks now. It has not been easy with this little guy as he is a picky eater, the first day all he would eat was a wild fruit called “msuku.” Then for a few days he hardly ate except for bits of apple; he just seemed to be too weak to have much interest. He is still not too interested in drinking milk, but we have found that sweet corn is one of his favorites. At evening time he becomes very demanding, as he hates to sit in his sky crate for the night and cries until one of us take him out. At this young age he already has the humans running around him. But each day we can see signs that Nick is on the road to recovery. We have even noticed that his tummy seems to have a bit more skin on it the last few days.
No day is the same here at Chimfunshi. Each day is a new challenge and somehow I do not think we would have made it through the difficult times if it was not for the support you have all given us over the years. We would like to thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
With only a few weeks before Christmas we would like to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. For those of you who will be traveling on busy country roads may we ask that you drive with care.
Hoots and Pants from us all here at Chimfunshi.