People ask us about the fruits we buy for the chimpanzees. Each Tuesday and Friday as we head into town, we are met by six local farmers along the dirt road. We order wild fruits and vegetables as we head towards Chingola and collect it on our way back. Across the Kafue River on the farm side there are also three local villages, and each village is given a turn on a Wednesday to bring their fruits and vegetables to sell to us.
There’s an amazing variety, depending on the season, and the prices have remained pretty reasonable through the years. A 50-kilogram bag of cabbages, for instance, is available from January through November and goes for USD $4, and we purchase about 36 bags per week.
Mangos are available from November through February, and they cost USD $3.50 per bag. We usually buy 50 bags of those per week. Avocadoes are also a favorite of the chimpanzees, and at USD $3.50 for a bag, we get about 45 bags per week.
We also get some items that you might not find on the local supermarket shelves. Sugar cane, for instance, costs USD $.11 per stick, and we buy up about 500 sticks at a time, if we can. The chimpanzees hoot and pant with excitement when they spy the sugar cane coming out of the food store rooms, and they can spend hours chewing on the stalks to get down to the syrup inside. But many find another use for the stalks: They wield them like clubs and beat each other in games that often threaten to get out of hand. Other local specialties include musakas, impundus, and ntungulas, all wild fruits that the chimpanzees might find in the forest.
But which is the chimpanzees’ favorite fruit? Of course, each chimpanzee is different, just like we humans, but there are some obvious trends. At this time of the year the chimpanzees go mad on mangoes, and it seems we can never buy enough of those. Some chimpanzees will even leave their bananas lying on the feeding table if a mango is nearby. If someone dares to steal a mango from his neighbor you will hear the scream and cries. Cabbage, oddly enough, is one of the next favorite foods. This time of the year due to all the rains cabbages are not easily available so we do make a point of buying extra cabbages when doing our own shopping in town. Avocadoes are another favorite fruit, and watching the chimpanzees peel the skin off very carefully and then eating slowly to savor each bit is a delight.
It has been some time since Billy the hippopotamus misbehaved. Rainy season is one of her favorite times, as she is able to wander off to the near by flood plains without the fishermen and poachers spotting her. She also has her own favorite mud holes that she has created over the years in her own back garden, and visitors are often amazed to find a hippo lying happily in a puddle of water next to our feed room. The other prime spot is halfway around our round-about, and each year after the first showers this mud puddle becomes great fun for the geese and Billy.
Early one Saturday morning around the middle of the month, Billy arrived at the house as usual around 5.30am, Mom could hear Billy was around, as she rattled on the metal barriers we’ve placed to keep her from barging into the house, and that was followed by the sound of a large metal pot falling to the ground in the back kitchen. But Mom carried on in the kitchen, preparing the morning milk for the chimpanzees. Tired of being ignored, Billy wandered to the door in the hopes that her milk was being warmed up too. But unbeknownst to Billy, Mom had snuck out the back door and climbed into the waiting taxi and was on her way to Mazabuka. She was to be away for three days with the family for her granddaughter’s 21st Birthday. Having watched Mom drive off, I heated up Billy’s two bottles of milk then fed her just like any other day – except it was not Mom feeding her. Just like every other morning she drank her milk happily closing her eyes as a sign of enjoyment. After her bottles she went and laid next to the feed room just like any other day. Around midday she wandered over to the seven-acre enclosure that holds the bachelor chimpanzees and laid inside the building for a short while, then headed down to the Kafue River.
Sunday morning we received a phone call from our neighbors 30 kilometers downstream. “Billy is here,” they said. “She is lying in front of our main gate so we are unable to leave our house. Do not worry, she has not done any damage — yet”. Mom arrived back from her journey a few days later and looked a bit disappointed when I mentioned that Billy left home the same day she did. The next morning at 5:30 a.m., Billy was back, banging on the metal barriers, only to be greeted by a very happy “mother.”
One Monday, when all the staff had knocked off for the day, I was sitting outside and watching the world go by. But suddenly I was shocked to see a young Vervet monkey sitting in the middle of the drive way. Both of Mom’s dogs — Titch and Buster — where standing next to it. Calling them away I slowly walked up to the Vervet, but it did not move or try and run. Only when I knelt down could I see the reason why: The poor monkey had a deep cut just above its eyes and blood was pouring down it face. Both eyes where shut tight and were black and blue. Wrapping my towel around the Vervet I carried it back to the house. With one hand I managed to open the medicine cupboard to get cleaning materials out. After cleaning the open wound I gave the Vervet some rescue drops, a pain killer, then placed it into a sky kennel to rest.
At first, the Vervet just sat there, traumatized. Then, after some time it began to run around in circles inside the sky kennel, frightened. There was nothing I could do except watch. Then I started to blow into the cage in hopes that it would come in the direction of the wind so that I could give it more water or food. Slowly I opened the cage door and handed it some banana which it accepted straight from my hand. Two days later the wound had closed but the eyes still look black and blue, even though one of its eyes had opened. But now that this wild Vervet could see, it is not too happy to come too close to us. We managed to place it in an outside cage, where it will stay until its injuries have healed up. Each day we watch this young Vervet watching his friends climb around on the tree tops calling out.
Finally, after a week of steady progress, Mom thought he looked much better and said it was time to release him. Standing out the way Mom opened the door to the cage, and we both thought this little guy would make a run for it. But no, he came out slowly and sat around for a while and then moved out into the open where he could look around before running onto the parrots cage. It was wonderful to see him back with his own kind again. We can only hope that this Vervet is accepted back with his troop.
Last September, we told you about a chimpanzee called Mads, who we discovered at feeding time had broken her leg. Knowing we were not able to put Mads back into her own family group, we thought it would be best to try and integrate her into the youngest group here at the orphanage. Integrating new chimpanzees into an already formed group is never very easy for the reason that the existing family groups find it hard to accept strangers. This is a slow process. After watching at feeding times as to who was friendly with Mads through the cage bars, we thought it would be a good idea to introduce Hans to Mads before anyone else.
Around midday, Hans was the first to appear at the cages, so we thought it would be a good time, seeing that none of the other chimpanzees were around to hoot and pant should anything go wrong, which always makes a bad scene worse. We called Hans inside, then opened all the necessary doors to Mads’ night cage. At first Hans approached Mads like a chimpanzee prepared for a challenge – blown up twice his size with his hair all standing on end. Mads hooted and panted in fear as he approached her. Female chimpanzees know that when a male is challenging them the best thing to do is submit by offering him the rear end, so Mads did. To Hans, this was the best thing any chimpanzee had ever done to him as he is one of the lowest ranking chimpanzees in this group. It did not take Hans long to show affection to Mads, the little pants and hoots of enjoyment between these two could be heard by all. Hans refused to leave Mads’ night room for the next week.
One by one over the next few days, we tried each chimpanzee in with Mads. Cindy, Dominique and DeeDee accepted this new chimpanzee with no fuss, and Bili (pictured at left) became so enamored that he’s become very protective over Mads and he will not allow any one near her when he is sharing her night cage. Feed times become a problem as Bili feels he should get her share of food for being her protector. Ultimately, it was time to introduce Alice and Madonna – Oh! What a disaster! We had a feeling that these two female chimpanzees would not accept Mads, so we thought it would be best if we left Bili in to protect her should anything go wrong. We opened the night cage door and Madonna and Alice rushed in and attacked Mads. Mads tried to hide behind Bili, who by now had lost the battle as the two elder chimpanzees where ganging up on him as well as Mads. The staff and I stood by loaded with buckets of mangoes and ground nuts, one of the chimpanzee’s favorite foods, but it made not difference. We eventually threw buckets of water in to try and separate the fighting chimpanzees. It worked – Alice and Madonna ran for cover under a table while Bili and Mads ran back into their own night cage. Hoots and pants of fear and anger echoed around the night cages. Poor Mads was the only chimpanzee to land up with any injures, as someone had bitten her badly her right hand. But Bili was the first to attend to her wounds as he held onto her hand and licked the wound.
Clearly, this is going to take a little longer…