Tag Archives: Nature

An incredible visit to the Chimfunshi wildlife refuge.

Standard

DSC03094

The Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage in central Zambia is a non-profit refuge that cares for a wide variety of sick, wounded or unwanted animals — but the primary residents are over 100 orphaned chimpanzees.  Last week, I was privileged to chaperone the 9th grade field trip to this unique and fascinating place…and to learn about chimpanzees – our closest cousins on the evolutionary tree, with more than 99% of our genetic make-up in common.

NOTE: With the exception of the photos of the school, these wonderful pictures were taken by my colleague, Heather PIllar, a professional photographer.

From their website: Chimfunshi was founded in 1983 when a game ranger brought a badly wounded infant chimpanzee to the cattle ranch of David and Sheila Siddle, a British couple who had lived in along the Zambian Copperbelt since the 1950s. The Siddles nursed that chimp – nicknamed “Pal” – back to health, thereby establishing a tradition of care and respect that forms the legacy of the sanctuary.  Once word of Pal’s recovery spread, the Siddles found themselves inundated with orphaned chimpanzees. Although many are confiscated from poachers who attempt to smuggle the infants into Zambia for sale as pets, an equally large number are rescued from dilapidated zoos and circuses from all over Africa, Asia, Europe and South America.  The Siddles bestow love and care upon the traumatized apes and gradually introduce them to the extended family at Chimfunshi. Five social groups inhabit the free-range enclosures that span 1,100 acres at the orphanage, including three 500-acre enclosures, the largest area ever set aside for captive primates.

More about Chimfunshi here: http://www.chimfunshi.org.za/  (And worth a read…)

After a long bus ride, we arrived at the main camp and got unpacked.  The camp is situated out in the bush; there are a number of rustic cabins, a central pavillion, a kitchen and a meeting room.  All electricity is provided by solar power and any kind of Wifi is non-existent.  We were given a introduction by one of the staff members and saw a video about the rescue of “Toto,” one of the chimps now at the orphanage.

DSC03100 DSC03101 DSC03102

The next day, we walked to the enclosures…about 4 km down a dirt road. DSC02958 DSC02959 DSC02964

The enclosures are the “second stage” of the sanctuary.  Here are chimps that have been successfully integrated into family groups and live fairly independently in enclosures about 10 – 15 acres in size.  They are not ready yet to be released into the huge, 500 acre enclosures as wild chimps, but except for feeding time, they are pretty much left alone.  The staff never go into the enclosures and the chimps only come to the borders for meals.  This is so that the staff can ensure that the chimps are eating enough and monitor them.  We also got to watch them being fed…they eat vegetables and fruits and they love nshima (a kind of cornmeal paste.)  They will negotiate with each other for food and steal it from other chimps who aren’t paying attention.  But they can also be generous and will share with a youngster or a chimp who is their friend.

DSC02967 DSC03042DSC03030DSC03034

Each student was assigned a chimp to observe every 30 seconds for one hour.  They had codes to record various behaviors.  Sometimes the chimps would be very active – grooming, vocalizing, interacting with other chimps, climbing a tree, throwing rocks, cuddling their babies and sometimes behaving aggressively, including loud hoots and shrieks.  But some of them simply seemed to like the easy life and spent a good portion of the observation time relaxing. (Much to the disappointment of their observer!)

DSC03155 DSC03173 DSC03149 DSC03073 DSC03076 DSC03082 DSC03068 DSC03057 DSC03053 DSC03047

The next day, we visited the Orphanage.  This is where animals are taken when they first come to Chimfunshi.  Many times, they have been so badly treated that it is impossible to move them to the larger enclosures…but the staff still strives to give them as natural an environment as possible.  “Toto,” the chimp in the video who was rescued from a circus in Chile was there.  He had been captured at age 2, along with 3 other baby chimps.  (Also, sometimes 10 – 12 adult chimps will die trying to protect a baby chimp.)  The other baby chimps died on their way to Chile and Toto was kept for more than 20 years in a crate about a meter wide, taught to smoke and drink and wear clothes.  He was castrated, chained by the neck and had most of his teeth pulled out.  When, he finally arrived at Chimfunshi (thanks to many people from many countries) he had not seen another chimpanzee for almost 25 years.

When he finally was let out of quarantine, he was cautiously introduced to a little 5 year old orphan chimp named “Madonna.”  He approached her carefully, and then reached out his long arms and enfolded her in an embrace.  He paid no more attention to the humans, but focused all his attention on his companion – able to be with one of his own kind at last.  (Go on, watch the video!  It is quite moving.)

Video about Toto: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rqiEqUlB7V4

A website about his remarkable rescue: http://www.savetheprimates.org/happyendings/stories/saved-toto-the-chimpanzee

He’s an old man now…almost 37 years old, but he could live for another 20 years.  And although he cannot be released into the larger enclosures, due to his age, infirmities and the fact that he was castrated, he has bonded with several other chimps in a “family” and he is respected by them because of his age.

DSC02985 DSC03200DSC03220

We also met Sheila Siddle, the co-founder of Chimfunshi.  (Her husband David died a number of years ago, and she has carried on with the work.)  She was fostering a baby chimp whose mother had rejected her.  The baby is 4 months old.

DSC03196 DSC03192 DSC03188

Chimfunshi also sponsors a school for the families who live in and around the area.  This is a one-room school house, for kids ages 5 – 11.  There are about 40 kids in the classroom…this is how it looks empty.

IMG_1590 IMG_1589

Our kids came and introduced themselves to the students and even though all the students spoke Bemba and all our kids (except one) did not, they seemed to have a good time playing together.

IMG_1591 IMG_1588 IMG_1587DSC03129 DSC03122 DSC03115

That evening, we were supposed to watch “The Rise of the Planet of the Apes” but something went wrong with the DVD player…so some of our kids acted out the movie for us…it was hilarious.

DSC03235

I thought Chimfunshi was a fascinating place and I really admire the work that is being done there.  Chimpanzees are highly intelligent, social, complex individuals who are suffering due to poaching, “bush meat” hunters, loss of habitat and general indifference.    Their numbers are decreasing at an alarming rate with only an estimated 150,000 still living in the wild.  Surely our closest living “relatives” deserve better from us.

“Chimpanzees have suffered so much pain and trauma at the hands of humans, yet they still have the grace to forgive us.”  (Sheila Siddle)

DSC02966

 

 

 

A bird watch…and cows!

Standard

IMG_1499

Sunday, I joined the Zambian Bird Society (http://www.birdwatchzambia.org) on their monthly bird-walk.  It took place at the Kalamazi Game Ranch, not far outside of Lusaka.  I borrowed a pair of binoculars for the occasion (and really need to get some of my own soon!)  I was also armed with a camera, a couple of bottles of water, a hiking pole and sunscreen.  I had neglected to bring my hat, but I made do with my trusty bandanna.

We met at the “Bird Watch Office” and caravanned towards the Game Ranch.  There were 7 of us…and no one was really a “regular,”, it seemed.  Once we turned off the tarred road, I realized that I should have jumped into one of the 4-wheel drive vehicles as my little Starlet was not meant for rutted dirt roads.  When we hit the turn to the ranch,  which was little more than a dirt path, I parked my car and grabbed a ride with a very nice American couple who had a sturdy 4 x 4.

IMG_1496

As we drove in, we passed several flocks of guinea fowl, which are very common and have been domesticated.  They apparently make good eating!

guinea-fowl

Birders can be an interesting bunch.  I was asked if I had brought my notebook – apparently it is common to record sightings and observations as you encounter different birds…or think you encounter them.   Everyone had a pair of serious binoculars and when a bird was sighted (or someone thought a bird was sighted) everyone would stand perfectly still, binoculars up and steady, looking to see if certain markings or beak colours could be discerned before confirming the sighting.

IMG_1492

 

Some people thought this bird was definitely a “lizard buzzard” but others were not so sure.  The light was not good enough to check to see if he had the requisite black stripes down his chest, as shown in the close up picture (not mine!)

IMG_1495

 

lizardbuzzard3_327w

We came across a whole bunch of nests made by a bird called a “weaver.”  They weave their nests onto reeds and thin branches.  There are several kinds of weavers, some that make neat, tidy nests like these and others who are sloppy and make ratty looking nests with loose ends and bits of sticks and grass sticking out. .

IMG_1493 IMG_1494

The game ranch is part of a farm that borders a large dam and the lake that has been created.  We walked around the lake to the mud flats, where we hoped to see some of the “waders.”  It was very pretty and there was a nice breeze coming off the water.

IMG_1497 IMG_1498 IMG_1500 IMG_1501

We were able to see several kinds of birds – ones that were positively identified were the pied kingfisher, the stilt, a common bulbul, a jacana (also called the “Jesus Christ bird” because it appears to walk on water!), a black-necked heron (which could possibly have been a grey heron) and a bee-eater.

The stilt is a very attractive bird – long red legs and black wings with a white body.  And the pied kingfisher is unique amongst kingfishers in that he hovers over the water before diving for his prey.  The bee-eater is a very pretty little bird – bright yellow body with a colorful head.  And the jacanas really do seem as if they are walking on the water – they have incredibly long toes which allow them to navigate on even the smallest leaves or twigs.

 (Please note: the close-up bird pictures are NOT mine!  I would have needed incredible luck and a much more expensive camera to take shots like these!  But they show what the birds look like!)

combcrestedjacanaDark-capped Bulbul WT09216 black_necked_stilt_small Bee-eater_Lit-Jy05Mahango-w

 

And then…someone told the cows it was time for morning tea.  One came down to see if it was ready.

IMG_1502

 

Then, using some unknown cow-communication, the rest of them slowly followed.

IMG_1503 IMG_1505 IMG_1506

 

These cows are quite unusual in that they have a hump between their shoulder blades, in some cases quite pronounced.  They are called “Zebus” or Brahman cattle and originated in Southern  Asia.   They are well adapted to tropical temperatures and used for dairy, beef, draught animals and also hides and leather.  Their dung is used for fuel and fertilizer.

IMG_1508 IMG_1507

 

Most of the cows moved placidly down to the water, but every once in a while, there would be feisty one who would seem more curious.

IMG_1504 IMG_1509

 

Behind the mud flats, there was a curious structure that I first took to be an old foundation of some sort.  Upon closer inspection, and some discussion, we discerned it to be a “cattle dip.”  The cattle would be driven into the shoot and into the deeper end, where they could be soaked with insecticide or cleaner…

IMG_1513

 

There was much interesting flora, as well.  Thorned acacia trees and various bushes and tall rush-like plants.

IMG_1511 IMG_1512 IMG_1515 IMG_1514 IMG_1516

 

And as we returned to our cars, we could clearly see a marabou stork wheeling about overhead.  This bird has a wing-span of almost 2 meters.  From a distance, it was beautiful, but it was considered to be one of the ugliest birds, with its short neck, featherless head and huge neck- pouch.

Marabou-Stork-pair

Right before leaving, I found a long-discarded impala horn on the ground…

IMG_1510

It was a fun morning…and next time, I plan to have a stronger pair of binoculars (and my hat!)