Tag Archives: Green Monkey

Bridging worlds

squirrel-thingThese days I spend almost every waking hour in front of my laptop, which is a bit bizarre, since I’m in such a beautiful country with birds and monkeys and crocodiles all around me … well, the crocodiles not so much, luckily they’re quite shy, but still. Bridging the somewhat surreal world of science (“Is the up- or down-regulation of certain genes dependent on altitude of origin of a Swiss collection of weeds?”) and the very real world of tropical Africa surrounding me is not always easy.

But luckily weekends also exist in The Gambia. Curiously, one Saturday per month is official clean up day: in the whole country no traffic is allowed, no shops are open, you’re not even supposed to walk around. Rather, you should stay at home and clean your house and compound. bee-eaterIt’s surprisingly strictly enforced – between 8 am and 1 pm there’s not a single car on the road, no shop open and only a few daring people out for a stroll …

As I’m a good citizen/tourist, I followed the government-imposed rules today and … well, I didn’t clean up the boat, although it’s in dire need of a good scrub. But I did stitch together a new cover for Brad, our inflatable. The old one – made of old “Mama Africa” rice bags – unfortunately only withstood the merciless UV-light for one month and simply started to disintegrate. I’m quite proud of the result and really hope the new tarp is going to last a little longer!

new-tarpNow I’m back at my rented room, and a little bit nervous, as there’s a chance of rain today. And here rain always comes with strong winds – I just hope that Widdershins won’t be blown away while I’m gone!

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Worlds apart

While Leonie is sweating in the tropical heat of Africa I have winged my way to the other side of the world. In a mere three days I jetted back to the starting point for our big adventure of twelve months on the high seas and am now cruising past the jagged ice-capped coastline of Svalbard. It’s surreal to think that our yacht is moored in a tropical estuary surroundedby mangroves and cheeky monkeys while I cruise amidst icebergs, seals and polar bears in the arctic island of Svalbard on a 100m meter ship!
I’m up in the arctic for 2 months earning some cash as a naturalist on an expedition cruise ship and sharing yarns about our travels in the Arctic with passengers from all over the world. Meanwhile Leonie is getting stuck into some serious science writing research articles on the epigenetics of small alpine flowers. We are worlds apart both physically and in our day to day life at the moment but we are both dreaming of the next eighteen months that lie before us.
ChimpWe have huge challenges ahead in the management of the Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Project on the Gambia river but it is a challenge that fills us both with a sense of excitement, adventure and privilege. Here we have a chance to do some really meaningful work that has the potential to do some real good – both for the wildlife of the region and for the local people. Exciting times ahead!

Meanwhile it seems like we have both stepped into a surreal holding pattern with day to day tasks that are a far cry from the last 12 months of drifting free on the wide ocean. It certainly helps us to put our lives in perspective. It’s great here in the Arctic but I can’t wait to step aboard Widdershins and get into the swing of our new life with the chimps!

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Two in the blue goes green

red-colobusA couple of days ago we returned from our trip up to the River Gambia National Park. It has been a fantastic experience with encounters of some of the most threatened mammals on earth. The national park consists of five islands in the river Gambia, where since the 1970’s many orphaned and abandoned chimpanzees found a new, undisturbed home through the Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Project. In addition, the area teems with wildlife: the rare red colobus monkeys swing through the trees around the camp, baboons roam the realms, warthogs trot through the undergrowth, hippos grunt at the opposite riverbank, while pythons, cobras genet and crocodiles only add to the excitement. We even got the chance to witness the release of a usually nocturnal and very elusive genet that had been caught and brought to the camp by some nearby villagers. Sparrow was initially a bit disturbed by the plethora of new smells and sounds, and was rather devastated when she lost a piece of bread to a cheeky green vervet monkey. But before long she made friends with the two resident camp dogs, and went off to explore the area with them.gekko

baboonsOur trip upriver was not entirely for our own pleasure though. A few months ago we applied for the newly vacant position of project manager for the Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Project, and got invited by Janis Carter, the director of the programme, to get a first hand impression of the project. As it turned out … she offered the position to us! Provided the Gambian government has no objections, we will be spending at least another year here in The Gambia, managing staff, tourists and chimpanzees! Well, first Patrick is flying toLifan-moto Spitzbergen for some Arctic adventure in two days time, while I will be working on publishing the last work of my PhD thesis. To facilitate my stay here, we also just purchased a new motorbike, my first (on land) motorized vehicle ever! Let’s hope that I’ll soon get better at driving on soft sandy back roads (I already dropped the bike once, oops). All in all we are very excited about the admittedly unexpected turn of events, and hope the two in the blue adventure will continue to excite despite the newly green environment!

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Charming chimps, boisterous baboons and capering colobus

chimp-baby-drinkingIt 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 ababoonnd 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 …

hipposLeonie 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.

Judith-and-JackyWe 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 waterhousepristine 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.

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Of monkey fire and mango flies

apple-finchThese days we wake at dawn as the sun rises in a golden glow over the mangroves that surround our anchorage. In this quite cool before the sun grows angry the world is filled with the twitter of brightly coloured birds, the erratic splish and splash of fish flitting on the surface, and the occasional chatter and crash of monkeys moving through the mangroves. Later, the sun burns with an intensity that turns the sandy trails through the scrub to a temperature sufficient to burn bare feet. The local women work topless in the fields and seem unbothered by the barrage of UV rays but there are times at the hottest part of the day where we seek shelter and, as they say in these parts, have a relax.

bearded-babetteWhile we are able to temporarily withdraw our bodies from the attack of midday, we have had to devise some alternate strategies to protect some of our gear from the perils of this climate. Leonie has been busy stitching a sun coverHornbill to protect our dinghy from the direct glare of the sun and I have already patched one hole caused by the sharp oysters that line the roots of the mangroves. To protect ourselves from the mosquitoes and other buzzing bugs that abound in these parts we have set up a net fortress over our bed and regularly apply liberal doses of mossie repellent and burn mosquito coils. Meanwhile we have been dosing the dog with various solutions to keep down the attack of the ticks, fleas and mites that cover the local population of monkeys, dogs and cats at Lamin Lodge. More worrying are the mango flies, which crawl onto dogs when they sit in sandy soils. The larvae of these horrible little beasts burrow into the dogs skin and grow to the size of a peanut – we have removed two already but think we are now mango fly-free.

baby-green-monkeyOur war on parasites has benefited by the advise of the local vet in Kololi, Micha Meyer, who has helped us set up our defences from the onslaught. In providing tips he also helped us diagnose the increasingly sulky behaviour displayed by our dog. It turns out that after hgot-a-lighter first heat she has developed a false pregnancy! Her mammary glands have been developing in preparation for lactation and she had been developing a “nesting” behaviour ready to look after her phantom puppies. This is all perfectly naturally in a wild dog pack were non-breeding females enter false pregnancy in order to be able to assist breeding females in the raising of their puppies – but apparently our Sparrow would have faces a crushing depression when no puppies were eventually forthcoming. As we had been considering getting Sparrow spayed already this was the final push we needed to book the operation. We hate the idea of playing with her biology but it really is the best thing… right now she is recovering from a successful mango-fly-larvasurgery and back to her normal energetic self.

So for now the midday heat has dissolved into the more pleasant temperature of the afternoon and the vista of African scrub is starting to stir as birds again flit amidst the branches after having their own siesta. Time for us to get back out there and explore.

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Greasing palms and monkey charms


We had a very tranquil journey from Senegal to the Gambia. Well … as tranquil as it gets in this part of the world. We did have a couple of moments of excitement including the realisation that the surges of phosphorescence criss-crossing the wake of the yacht were, in fact, caused by rather large sharks that followed us throughout the night. I was also rather concerned by a big trawler that suddenly materialised in front of me in the early hours oft he morning. I had gotten used to dodging the small canoes bearing torch-waving fishermen, but when a huge fishing ship with no lights, with trawl arms extended, and seemingly with the intension of reversing directly into us appeared in the starlit night I must admit I was rather nervous. In the end we pulled in the sails and motored full steam in the opposite direction, but he continued his dogged reverse pursuit for some time … weird.

monkeyThe chaos continued upon arrival at Half Die in Banjul (named literally because half the population died of a cholera outbreak). The name is not exactly encouraging and as a first introduction to the Gambia it leaves a lot to be desired. To be fair we arrived on Friday (Prayer day), which was probably a mistake – but we definitely got the feeling that the immigration and customs officers saw us as nuisance. There were a few friendly people at the immigration office, but generally we were dragged around, interrogated, told that our boat was anchored too far away, told that our boat was too hot, told that our immigration officer was very hungry, told that our food wasn’t good … and then we worked the game out. It took a rather blatant message from the uniformed officer: “I am a very unhappy man, usually you should give me a present”… oh … the whole performance was an exercise to extract bribes! We gave them small change in Senegalise Franks and they were on our way.

After this hot (over 35 degrees) and bothered start our visit to the Gambia took a dramatically better turn. After the tide turned we nosed our way into the small complex of swimming-in-laminmangrove lined creeks behind Banjul. Abruptly the clamour of the docks was left behind and we were surrounded by wildlife. Cranes, pelicans, egrets and kingfishers darted around the waters edge and fish flitted and jumped over the turbid water. We worked deeper and deeper into the maze of twisted passages, past the derelict wrecks lining the shallows, past the locals collect oysters in the mud and past the fisherman in their battered wooden canoes until we took the final turn and Lamin Lodge was revealed before us.

The Lodge is now abandoned and falling into a state of rickety disrepair, but we will tell more of it’s history in a later blog. Right now it is a pocket of tranquillity with cheeky green monkeys vying with the local fisherman for our attention. The water is a balmy 30 degrees which makes it perfect for a morning swim to wake up. Life here is a few paces slower than anywhere else we have visited but we are loving it!

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