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Monkey Proficient

SOUTH AFRICA | Friday, 8 February 2013 | Views [2406] | Comments [2]

Several days have elapsed since my last blog entry. The internet went down and was then intermittent but now seems to be working again. It’s amazing that even here, in the middle of the bush, it is possible to have internet. Tap water comes from the river, but we can electronically connect to the rest of the world!

The days have blurred into one another, a stream of cleaning out cages, feeding the handicap monkeys, sitting with the baby monkeys and also an hour a day with the lion cubs, helping in the kitchen, swimming in lunch hour if the weather is good, and suddenly the weekend is almost here.

One of the baby monkeys Helienki (misspelt but phonetically correct) has been quite poorly with the cold going around. She is a lovely, sweet natured little thing and with all the hours I sit with them, we have formed quite a bond. Today she is brighter and running around a little before coming back to sit with me. She has a favourite teddy, and if you are ever unsure which one she is, you can simply pick up her teddy and she leaps onto it. There is something very touching about a tiny monkey that rushes over to greet you, puts her arms around your neck and snuggles in. I am beginning to tell them apart and their individual personalities. Most of the bigger babies have now progressed into ‘big school’ – the kindergarten next door where last year’s orphan babies are adopting these ones. Some mothers choose a baby, only for the baby to totally ignore her or vice versa. Eventually they start to pair up and it is quite emotional, especially for the human moms to see their babies finding new moms. Some of them elect to stay in the kindergarten overnight, whilst others cry to come back at nappy time. Those that do cry come back to their human moms overnight and will then spend the next afternoon back in kindergarten eventually deciding to stay there permanently and thus forming a new troupe that will, in time be released back into the wild.

Amy, the baby baboon continues to grow appearing ever more clumsy compared to the Vervets. Today she has been taken to meet some fellow baboons at a baboon sanctuary in the hope that she might find a foster mom (hers was killed by a leopard) there. I’ve heard that Silke is hoping to bring back a 6 month old baboon to keep our baboon Soekie company.

Today Adele and I filled up a small swimming pool for the handicap enclosure. It was so funny watching them leap into the water in some cases, dipping in a foot or just totally avoiding it. Precious is blind in one eye but out of all them, she enjoyed the water the most. Having got wet, they sped around the enclosure so that we were almost as wet and sandy as they were.

Some days Kristen and I wish we could eat like these monkeys. The bowls of fruit that we take them smell and look so good, if it were any other enclosure we might be tempted to adjust their morning portions! We don’t get any fruit here so everyone’s shopping day list is usually fruit based. Tomorrow I have a day off and I am going into Bela Bela with Sue to do the shopping. We had a most civilised wine and cheese night earlier this week and tomorrow we are all massively excited as we are getting plenty of fruit to make a big fruit salad, evaporated milk and ice cream!!!! We have lined up a cool box and a solitary ice pack - hopefully this will keep the precious frozen commodity in tip top shape during the 40 minute drive back. As we don’t really have access to a fridge other than for milk, anything cold is quite a luxury and frozen is only a distant memory.

We are down from six volunteers to five after Chris went back to England earlier this week. Much missed for his fantastic sense of humour and pearls of wisdom. Next Lilia (representing Iceland) leaves us and travels on to Kenya. New girls are joining us next week and we very much hope that they will fit in. We have been lucky and really enjoyed being a group that works well and laughs hard together. Communal life does have its difficulties, particularly when there are those who do not see this as we the volunteers do. We come from different places paying to come and help, to try and help make a difference, to fit into routines which are second nature to permanent staff and sometimes getting it a little wrong. For the most part we all get along very well, work hard and there is much laughter. Unfortunately one or two seem to laugh less and focus on faults.

Nearing two weeks at Bambelela, I have become proficient at working with a baby monkey (or several) attached to me. I can now sweep up with a dustpan and brush with five baby monkeys and a baby baboon clinging on to me. Klaus & Toby (Cece’s babies) sleep in our room with us and getting dressed, brushing your teeth or hair are all perfectly possible to do while monkeys leap around landing where they will. I have learned facial expressions to use when monkeys try to dominate, how to get them off when they decide to groom you, how to discipline babies and am now recognising some of their calls.

We start work at 7am – yes - unbelievably I am up, awake and ready to go at that time! One of the things that makes my morning is feeding time. As we walk past one of the other enclosures there is a largish male monkey who runs alongside me to the end of his pen and then proceeds to leap up and down like he is on a trampoline – it is so funny and really makes me laugh. Once inside the handicap enclosure I generally feed Lady who is blind in one eye having been shot with a pellet gun. She sits in her little house and waits for me to come over with a smorgasbord selection of the day’s finest fruit. Kristen feeds Kingsley whose injuries have done nothing to impair his appetite, having undergone dental work last year. He is currently waiting to have eye surgery to restore at least some of his vision, unfortunately this requires a vet, an eye surgeon and an anaesthetist. Getting all three together is proving to be very difficult.

The other highlight of my day was looking after a wild baby monkey who has cut her leg which Belinda has now treated but is heavily plastered up. She spent the day in the nursery crying for her mother who at first stood outside and called back to her. Perhaps later Mom decided to enjoy some ‘me time’ because she disappeared. The poor baby was distraught so I gathered her up in a blanket and sat with her. She nipped a couple of times at first but by the end of the shift was content to let me stroke and even feed her. Helienki sat on top of her several times and was definitely a comfort but I suspect her agenda was also to make sure the newcomer was in no doubt about who my favourite monkey is. I find I am good with the sick ones. Her mother was caught this evening and they are spending the night together in the empty nursery. I wonder if her mother knows that her baby has been saved from potential infection. I wonder if they know how privileged I feel be of some use?!

Tags: baboons, monkeys, south africa, volunteering, volunteers




Brings it all back... missing it all very very much, blog makes good reading. Funny how a place can get under your skin so quickly. Spot on about being able to go about daily business balancing monkeys on your head! (More about that bloke Chris would probably have injected some pace and mystery into the story though as well as introducing some eye candy for the ladies...)

  chris Feb 11, 2013 9:36 AM


How wondrous and precious this experience must be Sarah. So proud of you for making your dreams happen.

  Naomi Feb 11, 2013 4:35 PM

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