November 2013 – Primate Handshake
I joined Primate Handshake for two weeks at Ape Action Africa with a purpose of creating a number of short documentary films about the sanctuary, namely the local staff caring for the animals and the background of some of the resident apes themselves.
Ape Action Africa is located in Mefou National Park, not too far from the capital of Yaounde. Rescuing predominantly apes from the bushmeat and pet trades, AAA has built a stable and comfortable home for these animals in the heart of the forest where they can live in the company of their own kind. These apes have been given a second chance through rehabilitation and now spend their days as part of secure social groups in large enclosures full of trees and vegetation to climb or hide within.
It was incredible to be able to spend two weeks among these apes. They each have their own troubled backgrounds and personalities, and two of those characters had the most impact on me: Chris, an infant gorilla, and Cazza, an infant chimpanzee. They were both brought in not long before we arrived, and watching them develop each day and play on the porch in front of us was truly delightful. However, they had both lost their entire family’s and their dependency on their human carers was utterly heartbreaking. Cazza, so agile and inquisitive even at her very young age, was always looking for something to climb or put into her mouth. And Chris, much more reserved and cautious than Cazza, never strayed too far from his carers but grew stronger and more confident by the day. Both were orphaned and victims of the pet trade. In order to obtain an infant ape it is estimated that up to 20 family members are killed in the process, as apes are extremely protective of their young, defending them to no end.
It was an amazing and intense couple of weeks filled with plenty of hard work and a real learning curve. Ape Action Africa is an incredibly worthwhile project and some day I would love to revisit it, especially to see how Chris and Cazza are getting on!