Last updated on February 5, 2012
I ended November’s newsletter by mentioning that I would write this month about the usage of tools. Milla, the elderly matriarch of the Enclosure Two group, has demonstrated that to us very clearly this month. Unfortunately we where not able to get any photos! Where is the camera when you need it?
Albert and his team of workers where busy late afternoon at Enclosure One and the chimpanzees had not been released yet as the staff were busy cleaning up inside the enclosure and also putting fresh water into the pond. At Enclosure Two the chimpanzees had been released an hour early. Talking amongst themselves the staff realized that the sounds of the hoots and pants echoing from Enclosure Two where those of a warning sound. Leaving Enclosure One they all headed back to Enclosure Two to see what the loud shouts were all about. The staff could not believe their eyes when they arrived there! Milla had gone off into the forest and had managed to drag back with her a very large log that she very carefully placed up against the electrical fence, making sure that she did not touch any of the live wires. When the staff arrived, Milla was already half way up the log, her long slim body balancing very carefully, hoping not to touch any wires on her way up. The rest of the group of 41,hooted and panted below the log just like a group of dare-devils encouraging a friend along the way.
Albert acted quickly and grabbed handfuls of biscuits from the near by food store room and threw them over the fence into the enclosure. The chimpanzees soon forgot about Milla and her escape as they rushed around trying to collect handfuls of biscuits. Milla hesitated on the log, looking back at her friends, and now had to decide whether to continue her journey over the fence or join her friends in collecting biscuits. Fortunately for the humans, Milla’s thoughst of food got the better of her and she jumped down from her log. The staff quickly found a step ladder, placed it on the outside of the enclosure and managed to lift Milla’s log over the fence. Albert then called to Milla, showing her the handful of biscuits he had kept for her. She looked pleased with what Albert had to offer and willingly walked back into the night cages, where she remained for the next few days. Milla is an odd chimpanzee — there are times when she just refuses to go outside for days on end and happily sits indoors, watching the staff from her night cage.
Three weeks later we thought that we had beaten Milla at her own game, but no way — she still has a few more tricks up her old sleeves. Friday morning, when Innocent was on his way to catch the truck going into town, there was a radio call: “Milla is out”. Turning around, Innocent headed back to the enclosures to see what Milla was up to. Late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning, Milla must have somehow managed to get out of Enclosure Two. Having no one around, Milla had time to look around to see where she could best sleep the night. After pulling a large amount of thatching grass out of the nearby shelter, she headed towards the public toilets and made the most beautiful nest in the door way. The staff where shocked to find Milla happily sitting in her nest, waiting for their arrival. Albert and the staff opened the night cage door for Milla showing her the large amount of fresh apples and other fruits they had placed in there for her. Walking up to the door Milla glanced inside, saw the food but then she closed the night cage door, then bolted it and started to walk towards Enclosure One. Fortunately all the chimpanzees from Enclosure One where already out in the forest. The staff opened a night cage door for Milla. she looked around and seemed to be very happy with her new home, so climbed in. The staff then closed the door behind her. From the distance of the tree tops the chimpanzees of Enclosure One watched as this new chimpanzee settled into their night room, and they were not pleased. As you can imagine, feeding time was not a quiet one for the staff as the chimpanzees hooted and panted at the new stranger, and poor Milla was not made to feel welcome. Innocent plans to dart Milla in the New Year and move her back to her own enclosure.
The December rains are here, and they bring us a supply of new fresh fruits and lots of wild berries. But they also bring something else: wild mushrooms, which attract people from miles around. The wild mushrooms are picked by the locals then dried and sold on road sides and town markets. But sadly this also causes the people to cut fences and do damage to our property just to get to the mushrooms. For years we have tried to control this but have never had any joy.
December is also the month for the mangos, which are loved dearly by the chimpanzees and the people alike. The chimpanzees will even leave their bananas when mangos are spotted in the feeding boxes. The other favorite this time of the year is avocados. We are very fortunate that years ago trees where planted on the farm area therefore we do not pay a big price for these fruits. We are currently paying 300 kwacha per Kg, and 50-kilo bag costs us only about $5 USD.
Sadly, our little Nick, the infant Vervet monkey, passed away on the 22nd December 2008. Although the skin on his tummy seemed to clear up, we noticed that his little hands always tried to scratch the area where the skin had been worn away by the ropes he wore when we found him. Until the day Nick died he refused to drink milk, no matter how hard we tried. The only food he seemed to like was sweet corn, the odd bit of bread but not enough to fill a young monkey’s tummy. Mom and I became very worried about him as he even refused to eat bananas, which is one of the most loved fruits. On feeling around Nick’s tummy Mom was so sure that little Nick must have had some type of internal injures that we never knew about. We also notice that when picking him up him would bite and now we think that something was not right. Nick brought us a lot of joy the short time he lived with us. My dogs would allow him to sit on the edge of the basket while he ate a small piece of fruit bar in the evenings.
The afternoon December 17th was dull as the rain clouds gathered above, Toto and his group were released out into the 5-acre enclosure, but these chimpanzees are normally not keen to come out into the open if there is sign of rain. They prefer to play indoors. On this afternoon, however, Karla was the first chimpanzee to come out, followed by Billi and Hans. For some unknown reason, Cindy came rushing out and began to pick on Karla. Screaming and rushing for cover, Karla ran underneath the bushes. Toto, the alpha male. heard her calls and came out to see what was happening. He then began to chase Cindy, which caused excitement among the other chimpanzees. Everyone was rushing around screaming and frightened. Little Dominique stood for a short while watching, and it seemed he was not sure what to do. It was then that Toto came running from nowhere up to Dominique, so Dominique decided to act. He puffed himself up, stood on his hind legs, and began to beat Toto on the chest with his little fists, hooting and panting. Toto just stood there. Dominique is three years old and the youngest chimpanzee of the group, and to suddenly display and attack the alpha male was quite a big step. When Dominique had finished, Toto put his large hand on Dominique’s back, giving him a reassuring hug as if to say “all is OK”. Toto then walked off in one direction while Dominique just sat looking very pleased with himself.
Once the chimpanzees had all quieted down, the fun and games began. Karla (pictured below) was the first to climb into the water pond. At first she just sat near the edge letting her fingers run over the top of the water. Finding this to be good fun, she then began to move her knees up and down causing waves in the pond. She then jumped out of the water rubbing her back on the grass as if to dry herself. Suddenly she jumped up and almost dived back into the water, jumping up and down once again. She then lay in the middle of the pond on her tummy, opening her mouth wide and letting the water run into her mouth. Like a child in a new pond she played happily with the water. The other chimpanzees watched. Sims was keen to play but not too keen to get wet so he gently climbed into the pond paddled around for a few minutes and climbed out. Near by the pond was a rain puddle which amused him more as he managed to splash Karla from a distance. DeeDee was the next to wander into the water she just stood near the edge keeping a keen eye on the other chimpanzees as if to watch that no one pushed her. It did not take Alice long before she could see the fun and games one could have in the water. Jumping in from a distance she began to chase and splash Karla. Running for cover she jumped out the pond and stood by watching and waiting until Alice was not looking. She pounced back into the pond giving Alice bigger waves. These two chimpanzees played for well over an hour in the pond, chasing each other ducking faces under the water. At one stage it looked like Alice was taking a bath as she took handfuls of water up to her face and began to wipe her face down. Standing near by we could hear as she blew out of her nose while washing her face. Our visitors stood and watched in amazement. Every now and then Billi would approach the edge of the pond, trying to splash the nearby chimpanzees but he did not dare go into the water. Toto sat well away from the unruly bunch, but every now and then he would nod his head in our direction and point to the near by lemon tree, we would happily pick and throw him another lemon.
As the saying goes, “it never rains but pours”. One of the early morning duties of the staff here at the Orphanage is walking the enclosures before the chimpanzees are released for the day. Who knows — in the rainy season a dead tree might have dropped onto the fence line during the night, with the rains the grass grows thick around the fence line making it difficult to keep up with clearing and slashing of the grass. The second job is for Dominique to test the fence to see what the electrical fence is reading. Some days in the rainy season the power drops down due to a lack of sun.
In the early morning of December 29th, we could hear loud screams and shouts from the bachelor chimpanzees, and we could also hear the odd warning pant. This is common coming from our bachelor as some days they will tease the oldest chimpanzee, Eusebio, or someone has spotted a monitor lizard inside the enclosure. None of us seemed to worry until Andrew came running up shouting, “Choco is out! Choco is out”. Choco is a 23-year old male chimpanzee who is very soft natured, but he has his moments. Mom was the first to rush over to the bachelors’ enclosure to see if she could assist. Mom thought it was best to sit on a nearby log as Choco approached her at full speed, all fluffed up. Rushing up to Mom he threw his arms around her and hugged her for some time. Now, having a 23-year old chimpanzee four times stronger that you hugging you can be a bit painful, but Mom just threw her arms around him telling him how beautiful he is. We all just stood by and watched in amazement. Letting go of Mom, Choco started to wander over to the driveway of the Orphanage with Dominique, Andrew and Chobela closely behind. One of Chimfunshi rules when a chimpanzee has escaped is to get all the other chimpanzees back into their night cages- this saves us landing up with fights between chimpanzees who have not met one another. Choco approached Cleo, Sandy and Colin in their cage. The body language between these chimpanzees was not a good one, but fortunately no one could get hurt. As luck may have it Innocent arrived at the Orphanage in time to prepare the dart gun. We have been very lucky that Innocent has learnt to do the darting of chimpanzees; it was the job that only Dad used to do in his day. The dart gun was loaded and ready, and all Innocent needed to do now was get close to Choco to be able to dart him. Watching out of the office window trying to see where Choco was, I noticed the look on Chobela’s face — it was a look that said something has happened around the corner. The staff stood still. They knew it is not possible for them to go and help Mom. Meanwhile, Mom had been following Choco at a distance, calling to him all the time. Suddenly he turned and rushed back to Mom for another hug, only this time Mom was standing. The force of a large chimpanzee rushing at you for a hug knocked Mom to the ground, but Choco still held onto Mom – together their lay on the ground. Mom was not hurt at all.
Walking around with a loaded dart gun hidden behind one’s back is not very easy, and each time Choco turned to look at the new stranger, Innocent had to stand still and pretend like all was well. Dominique was used as the prop for Innocent who hid behind him and slowly they walked closer to where Choco was hanging onto Cleo’s night cage. Innocent aimed and fired, the dart hits Choco in the hind leg. Innocent ran and Choco screamed and looked at his leg to see what bit him. The rest of us stayed calm as we waited for the drug to take affect. Choco moved away from the cage still checking his leg out, it was not long before he started to stagger. On the driveway Choco collapsed since his leg no longer worked. Mom went to comfort him, he held onto Mom giving her great big kisses. After what seemed like ages Choco tried to move to the nearby tree to try and climb it, hugging the tree he was unable to move. Although the drug had affected Choco’s legs, he was still too strong for us to try and carry him back to his night cage. We then noticed that Choco was keen to follow me, so the next idea was that I walked slowly back to the bachelors with Choco very closely behind me. Once we where at the bachelors we tried to get him into the enclosure as we knew it was not possible to lift him into the cage. Choco refused to go into the enclosure. Worried that the drug might wear off before we had managed to get him it we thought it would be best to give him a top up injection. The top injection did the trick, Dominique and Andrew carried Choco to the safely of his own cage. One hour later we checked to see how he was doing as he should have been lying in a corner feeling sorry for himself, but no Choco was sitting on the feeding table waiting for his meal.
On checking the energizer for the electric fence we found that lightening must have hit the energizer causing the main board to blow. Now that Choco was back in his own night cage, Chobela testing the batteries at the bachelors and also for the 5-acre and 14-acre enclosures. We where shocked to find that both the main boards had blown. For the next three days, Dominique and Chobela spent hours walking around the fenceline trying to find the main fault, and the only way to do this is by disconnecting each line and testing each separately. On a couple of occasions, Careen, our little mischief chimpanzee, would climb out between the bars on her enclosure and come to inspect what Dominique and Chobela where up to. Careen would sit on Chobela’s back or next to him watching them work. At times like this it is always best to keep on eye on the pliers and loose wire in case she steals them and tries to undo all the hard work they have done.
Fortunately we had one new board as a spare as it is seldom that two boards go together. It was then decided that it would be best if we got the 14 and 5 acre enclosures working and the bachelor boys will just have to remain inside until the new boards arrive. The blown boards where then DHL to Carl in SA in hopes that Maps are able to repair them as soon as possible and DHL them back to us.
Christmas Eva friends of our arrived with a hawk which they had sadly hit with the vehicle while driving from Lusaka. Fortunately for the bird they had not done any serious damage, and we think the leg and *** were badly bruised. This beautiful bird eats well, though, and showed signs of trying to get out of the cage. Two weeks later Mom opened the door and the hawk flew to freedom. It is always such a joy to watch a bird take to flight after recovering from an injury.
Two days after Christmas, our friend, Jamie Holt, received a young Vervet, same as the last one. Its mother had been killed and the baby sold on the streets of Chingola. Jamie took the infant away from the locals, and brought it here to Chimfunshi, where we named it “Buddy.” Buddy was not keen to be handled by humans, though; he just wanted out of his cage. One morning, Mom was leaning into the cage when little Buddy managed to run over Mom’s back and out of the cage. Mom was in tears as this little chap sat on top of the parrot cage looking around at the big trees and no one to guide him. Mom called out in vain, and she was feeling so guilty that he would be alone for his first night out. Then the most wonderful thing happened. Our wild Yellow baboon arrived with his Vervet female friend and her baby, Buddy slowly walked up to the little Vervet and his mother, but the mother pushed Buddy away. He cried out and just sat near by. Meanwhile, her baby had started to play with young Buddy, and it was wonderful to watch. After some time Buddy once again approached the female Vervet, only this time he stuck his little head near her ***. She lifted her arm and let Buddy suckle from her, but only for a few minutes. Watching this brought tears to Mom’s eyes, as she now felt better knowing that little Buddy had someone to watch over him – better yet, he had a playmate his own size. Every day since Buddy escaped, we see him and his new a found family hanging around the food shed.
Ending this newsletter off on a wonderful note, may we wish you all a fruitful and successful 2009!