It is morning here in the Gambia and the breeze is still cool despite the glowering sun rising over the canopy of trees that cling to the river. The trees themselves form a dense tangle of a million shades of green broken by the occasional flash of colour as birds dart amongst the foliage. Also moving through the canopy are dark shapes that screech and chitter as they crash through the leaves – monkeys for certain but which species? It’s hard to catch a glimpse in the mysterious gloom behind the bright green, and besides, the hippos in the river are snorting and grunting and it is hard to pay attention …
Leonie and I are sitting on the deck of the Waterhouse at the Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Project camp on the River Gambia. For once we have left our yacht behind and hitched a ride up-river in more conventional transportation – a four hour trip passing through rutted roads, small villages populated by circular mud huts and smiling children, and of course through an endless vista of arid grassland populated by towering termite mounds and grinning baboons (the smiles of the children were genuinely friendly while the baboon grins were clearly intended to show us the pointy nature of their dentition). When the journey was finally over and we stepped into the shady haven of the River Gambia National Park we both felt we had stepped into a dream.
We have been privileged over the last 12 months to pass through some amazing wilderness and to meet some amazing characters, but the Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Projects stands out as something special. Starting with the ambition of re-introducing captive and orphaned chimps into the wild, the project encompasses some of the most pristine wilderness remaining in the Gambia and protects a whole host of species including the endangered red colobus monkey, green monkeys, patas monkeys, olive baboons, genets, hippopotamus, hyena … well the wildlife here is far too diverse to start a list. And let’s not forget the chimps. Observing wild chimpanzees amidst the dense foliage of the river bank is a thrilling experience, and one that leaves a lasting sense of wonder.
But for now there is no time to wonder too much as there is so much more to see in this amazing reserve.