First of all: apologies to anyone who was worried that the jungle or the sea may have swallowed us … we’re still very much alive, although usually pretty much off the grid.
Our lives have yet again taken an unexpected turn, and these days Patrick and I call ourselves “managers” (it’s even written on our Gambian ID cards, so hah, there you go, must be true!). If you wonder what we might manage, well, it’s a long story.
After our propeller broke down in Morocco we found ourselves stranded for an undefined amount of time, realizing that we probably wouldn’t be able to cross the Atlantic before the next hurricane season would hit the caribbean. To counter our frustration we applied for a variety of jobs, and a few months later we found ourselves in the Gambian bush, looking after chimpanzees and other primates (i.e. mostly humans).
The Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Project is the oldest project of it’s kind: in the late 1970ies the first chimpanzees were re-introduced in the Gambia – more precisely on the baboon islands, a group of islands in the middle of the river Gambia. These islands were (and still are) home to the the last patches of undisturbed gallery forest in The Gambia, and ideal to become a new chimp home: whilst they provided a natural habitat and (at least some) food for the chimps they also provided a natural enclosure for the chimps, who cannot swim and are thus stuck on the islands. Furthermore the islands were un-inhabited and thus no conflict between humans and chimps could arise. The originally released chimps were mainly orphaned west-african chimpanzees, with an additional few ones originating from laboratories of the United States. Well, and those chimps have been on these islands ever since, happily multiplying. These days three generations of wild-born chimpanzees live on the island – including the last three babies born just a couple of weeks ago there are now 109 chimps to look after!
This “looking after” is probably quite different to what most people would expect. The chimps are being left undisturbed and no human has set foot on these islands for decades (unless an emergency arose), so there’s no cuddling of cute chimp babies involved in our work. Unfortunately the islands don’t provide enough food for the chimps though, so their diet has to be supplemented. And as we can’t do that from the land, we have to do it from the river, by driving boats close enough so the food can be thrown onto the islands. This way the chimps can also be medicated if any need should arise, and as our staff knows every single chimp they can be monitored on a daily basis.
But this feeding and monitoring is just one aspect of our work. We’re also patrolling the national park so no visitors from outside get too close to the chimps (which is to protect both the chimps and the people – chimps can be quite dangerous if they feel threatened), we have a huge education program where kids of all ages are being taught about nature, and of course we have tourists staying at the camp four days a week. All in all over twenty local people work for the project, which in itself can sometimes become quite challenging. On the other hand, there’s definitely never a dull day.
But more about our daily adventures some other time! For now we just wanted to let you know that we’re still alive …