Thursday, February 28, 2013

I've Been to Eden

Chimp Eden that is, and it was every bit as rewarding as I expected.

And sorry to be a tease but this is the only photo you get to see; I need to do a little editing work to get rid of wires.

Since I was on a 10am tour with 35 French people and our guide Jason has to pause to allow the translator to do his thing, the tour lasted beyond the usual hour, giving me more time to observe the chimps. Obviously Nina and her baby are off limits, and the top enclosure, where the chimps have the least human contact, is also not included in the tour. But we had plenty of time to see the lower and middle enclosures. I got to finally see several chimps that I recognized from the show that used to be on Animal Planet, including the elderly Joao (60-something years old) and Cozy. Poor old Cozy. A life that has included being born in a lab and experimented on multiple times, and then being taken to Italy where he was castrated and forced to wear tight jeans, has left him with brain damage, some hip displacement, and a lack of status within chimp society. (Having been castrated, he is no threat to the males and ranks below everyone). Nevertheless, he has plenty of character as he attempts to make up for his defaults. To their credit, the other chimps sort of take him as he is, leaving him to his own devices but stepping in when he gets hard to handle.

After the tour, I was met by Executive Director David Devo Oosthuizen, who started his career as a wildlife photographer and now has a job I envy greatly. He then introduced me to Gill, in charge of planning the Sanctuary's new volunteer program. I was thrilled when she asked if she could pick my brain, since I had just come from a volunteer program, and so we chatted about her ideas (which sound great) over lunch.

As I drove down to the main road, I found the road blocked by a troop of baboons. It seemed an excellent end to the day that I had been looking forward to for months.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Pilgrim's Rest to God's Window

As I enter my final few days of a month in South Africa, I am having a few days of R&R in the Nelspruit area, which is at the lower edge of Kruger National Park.

Today I picked up my rental car, and drove north to the little town of Pilgrim's Rest. Originally a gold mining settlement, Pilgrim's Rest is now a designated historical village, where the buildings have all been preserved to reflect a way of life from days gone by. It's not all rosy and happy though. Pilgrim's Rest hit the headlines last year when several white tenants were evicted to make room for black tenants, a controversial move that is part of a nationwide plan by the ruling ANC party. But we'll skip the racial politics for now, and focus on what there is to see and do as a tourist.

Scott's Cafe
My first stop was Scott's Cafe, where I met a rather elderly couple who were on their honeymoon. After wishing them the best, I sat down to enjoy some of the cafe's apparently famous stuffed pancakes. Options ranged from peri peri chicken to ground beef and jalapenos. I settled for a vegetarian option: pancakes stuffed with spinach and feta, topped with an olive and sundried tomato tapenade, and sprinkled with poppy seeds.

I can in all honestly say that these were the best pancakes I have ever eaten. They even top the nutella ones I enjoyed in Innsbruck many years ago. I foresee a definite attempt to recreate them once I get back to Kentucky.

Stomach now satisfied, it was time to explore the town, and that meant braving the row of vendors. I hate high-pressure sales and I hate haggling, so I can't decide if I got some good bargains or if they saw me coming. At the end of the day, though, I am happy with my purchases, and despite having parted with a good many rand, I reminded myself that the amount was still relatively small for me, but relatively big for them. In retrospect, I think my hesitation and silence may have worked in my favor as the women reduced the prices further each time I said nothing.

After an hour or so of browsing, taking photos, and insisting that I could not spend any more money, I decided to escape the pressure of Pilgrim's Rest and flee to the hills. Hence, I hit the road again and drove to nearby God's Window, a gorgeous spot offering incredible views over the entire valley.

With time ticking on and 29 Celsius on the thermometer, I decided to head back to Nelspruit, but now before being stopped by a polite but stern policewoman, who informed me I had been speeding. She sent me on my way with a reminder to obey the rules of the road. And so I leave you for today with a promise that I shall observe posted speed limits and not do anything to get arrested!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Farewell IPR, Hello Nelspruit

And so, like all good things, my time at IPR came to an end. Early Saturday morning, I bid a fond farewell and boarded a bus to Nelspruit.

One thing that caught me completely by surprise was just how much I would miss IPR - the people and the monkeys. I knew I would to some degree but by Sunday, I felt completely lost without Chino and co. I found myself looking through my pictures but honestly, none of them truly capture the place for me.

But back to the trip...

After a brief stop at a motorway service station, complete with rhino in a small preserve (take that British services!), we drove through an increasingly beautiful area of gorges, tiny historic towns, and greenery on our way to Nelspruit. Apparently this area is quite full of history - steam trains, gold mines, rumored lost gold, and so on.

I checked into the Old Vic, met by a woman named Happiness, who seemed anything but at the time. To be fair, I later found out that she is due to give birth any time now and she was much friendlier the next day. Saturday was incredibly hot, as I discovered during the 40 minute (each way) walk to the supermarket. However, despite warnings of the higher temperatures, the weather has actually been much cooler here. Yesterday and today are comfortably warm but overcast, tropical perhaps.

Yesterday, I was going to walk to the nature preserve but lodge owner Dave warned me that as a single woman, it might be a little risky. Instead he suggested the Botanic Gardens so I took a taxi and spent a gorgeous day there, enjoying spectacular scenery of the waterfalls and the Crocodile River, lots of South African flora, and even a little wildlife (one mongoose and a group of vervet monkeys).

Nelspruit Cascades

Crocodile River
I'm not sure what my plans are for the next couple of days. On Wednesday, I will pick up my rental car and so will spend the latter part of the week exploring Kruger, Chimp Eden, some local caves, and whatever else strikes my fancy before I fly back on Sunday. Until then, I am limited to foot and taxi.

As a quick postscript, I should mention how much fun the taxi rides are, for the simple fact that you never know who else you'll be riding with or quite how long it will take you to get anywhere. Yesterday, when Ben came to pick me up at a prearranged time from the Botanic Gardens, he already had one other passenger. We then did a detour to a local school, where there had been some sort of picnic, to pick up a mother and child. The more the merrier!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

My Last Monkey Time

Thursday is always a fairly short day because the afternoons are put by for house cleaning and monkey time so there is not much to report from today. For my last monkey time, I chose to go in with some of the squirrel monkeys, but they were much more interested in hunting for crickets and wrestling each other than they were in me or my handful of peanuts.

The last few days have been unbearably hot, easily the hottest we’ve had since I’ve been here, so today’s slight breeze was very welcome. Sue’s mother is visiting and she says it has been much hotter (!) in Polokwane, which makes me wonder just how hot it might be up in Nelspruit next week.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A New Arrival

It’s not necessarily that amazing how much the atmosphere of a place can change as people come and go, but it is always surprising. Four short term volunteers left yesterday and the IPR seems so quiet now, with only six short termers left. Last night, instead of struggling to find somewhere to sit and then listening to the noise of people coming back from the pub, long- and short-termers alike gathered for a game night. Even today at work, things were noticeably quiet; during obs, I went for several hours without seeing anyone else. And the dorm (10 beds but only 2 occupied) carries an odd echo.  

The enclosure for Brandy is coming along very nicely. Sue hopes to eventually be able to integrate her with Anushka and Jethro, perhaps later adding Chino and Willow to the capuchin mix. For now, though, she’ll have her own space next to them.

Meanwhile, with Oma now removed to the other end of the sanctuary, efforts are being made to reunite Sussie and Spartacus. Therefore, my duties today (other than the early morning feed) consisted of keeping an eye on them as they explored each other’s shared space, while still having the ability to retreat to their own enclosures. They remind me of a couple that have nothing left to say each other: they live together but both wander around the house without so much as an acknowledgement. An occasional glance in the other’s direction, if you’re lucky. 

One other highlight of today was getting to hold Melvyn, as we have christened the 2 week-old bushbaby. He is so tiny, I was almost afraid of crushing him in one hand.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Bushfires and Bushbabies

The start of my last week at IPR and it kicked off with a bushfire and a new emergency arrival. Word of the bushfire came during lunchtime while I was doing obs on Brandy. Her new enclosure is under construction (I spent this afternoon painting the roof), but she and some of the others are quite disturbed by the noise. Suddenly Sue appeared, calling for Solomon and Sydney, the two men who work here full time. Just at the same time, Tom, Bren, and Toby all came back from the pool to let us know. Although not a large bushfire, it was rather close to the mona monkeys’ enclosure. Fortunately, eight people with beaters were able to put it out. Nevertheless, it does show how dry the ground and grass is; even with the heavy storms we’ve had on occasion, the ground is too hard and dry to absorb the moisture so it simply evaporates with the heat. 

Another interesting point was the lack of concern among the neighbors who just see the fires as “one of those things”. When you have a large number of vulnerable monkeys, the fire risk takes on a much more serious tone as even the smoke could do serious damage and evacuation would be a nightmare. Volunteers will probably be digging fire-breaks within the next few weeks as the season gets drier and the risk higher.

Two week old bushbaby, Melvyn.
We also had an emergency arrival this afternoon: a two-week-old bushbaby that is apparently quite ill. Some people brought her in after finding her and not knowing what to do. Our volunteer vet nurse, Emily, is keeping a close eye on her. If the bushbaby makes a full recovery, it will then go up to Polokwane where a friend of Sue’s has another young one (they do better in pairs).

Construction, fire, emergency patients – a busy day in all and more to come. I think a storm is blowing in and it’s been a few days since we last had a big one. This may put a dampener on the pool party currently taking place for those leaving tomorrow. On the other hand, they may just move the festivities into the bar….

P.S. One more event today that I almost forgot to mention was being able to observe Chino and Willow go rockstar in their sleeping quarters. Jax had cleaned out their room and thought we might like to see how crazy they go when they head back inside. Crazy doesn’t even begin to describe it; these two could put The Who to shame for smashing up a room. They leapt around, chasing each other, wrestling, pulling things over, smashing anything they could get their hands on. Capuchins are very cute and they thrive on destruction so this was a wonder to watch, not to mention another reminder as to why they should not be kept as pets.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Exploring and a Complicated Issue

Today, before it got too hot to enjoy my day off, I went on a very pleasant five mile walk, doing the loop around Hammanskraal. I had been hoping to see some springbok; Ethan saw them the other evening on his run. No springbok for me but plenty of emu. (I know emu are Australian but it seems they are raised here by some people too). 

It was actually an interesting walk. A very long straight dirt road the entire way, but it gave me a chance to see some of the properties. One thing that struck me is the wariness about security. Every property is surrounded by locked gates, bars, electric fences, dogs, security signs, or some combination thereof. When Jo was away for a few nights last week, she asked Stevie and Josie over to stay to keep an eye on the place. We’ve also been warned against wandering out alone at night, having heard stories of machete-wielding men who roam the veld after dark, just looking for properties or people to rob, hence the seemingly extreme security measures around many properties.

Clearly it is unusual to see a white woman out walking. I saw very few people, but the few trucks that passed slowed down to offer me a ride. 

These landowners seem to be primarily Afrikaans, the white South Africans of Dutch or British origin. Race is incredibly complicated here, with Afrikaners  Afros (black), and coloreds (mixed race). Even twenty years of so after the end of apartheid, there is still a marked separation between the groups. Sadly, I’ve had little opportunity to really mix with any locals, other than Astrid and Marni at the bar, and the occasional hello with Gracie, Solomon, and Sydney, who work on site at IPR. It’s a shame as I would love the opportunity to sit down with some South Africans and have an open conversation about race relations here, but it seems an impolite or sensitive subject to raise with anyone.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Repeat After Me: Primates Are Not Pets


Roxy, our Fennec Fox, was finally able to move into her new enclosure yesterday, making way for a new monkey arrival. If you ever needed any explanation as to why monkeys should not be kept as pets, Brandy is the perfect example. A capuchin, Brandy was bought by her owners from a pet store and treated as an infant child. She was given her own room, fed sweets, and generally denied a monkey way of life. This is all very well (or not) and everyone thinks they have an adorable monkey-child.

Then the monkey reaches sexual maturity, and you no longer have a cute little child on your hands but an angry teenager. In the case of Brandy, who started attacking her female owner, their answer was to put her on a shorter and shorter leash in her room. Not surprisingly, she became all the more vicious. Finally, not knowing what else to do, the owners called IPR and gave an ultimatum: if you can’t take her, she’ll be euthanized.

Brandy arrived a few days ago. Neither monkey nor human, she is pissed, and who can blame her. I have to say, I take a much harsher view of her owners than most of the others here. The owners were crying when they dropped her off and have been back each day to visit. They were crying when they dropped her off and so the other volunteers and staff were talking about how much they obviously loved her.
Brandy, shortly after arrival at IPR

My take is much less sympathetic toward them: they have engaged in an ongoing act of cruelty, caused by their own vanity and stupidity. I would not buy a dog without doing some research into how best to raise one: diet, behavior, etc. The most basic research into monkeys would tell you that they should not be kept as pets. The owners didn’t buy her to be a monkey; they bought her to be a child, and sadly Brandy will probably never fully recover.

The Primate Rescue Center in Nicholasville, Kentucky, has many residents who were originally pets but confiscated by state officials. Some have had teeth and claws removed in an attempt to “calm” them; others are diabetic thanks to a lifelong diet of sweets. It is incredibly sad for the monkeys, and cruel on the part of humans.

Here’s hoping that the next stage of Brandy’s life is much happier than it has been so far. 

UPDATE: Brandy was able to move into her new enclosure a few days after I left IPR. She is apparently now thriving at the sanctuary. She is allowing others to groom her and is being introduced to Chino and Willow with the goal that eventually they will all share their space. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Very Brief Update

Another 5 a.m. feed today.

A quiet day at IPR since a lot of folks have gone off to a Lion Sanctuary and to the Cradle of Humankind. Luckily, this meant I could have some quality time with Oma this afternoon. We groomed each other and life is good. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Primate Observation Gets Interesting

Was it The Kinks who sang about lazing on a sunny afternoon? For some reason, I’ve got that song stuck in my head. Whoever sang it, we are definitely not lazing about over here. Friday was my day off so I visited a local mall and then spent the afternoon by the pool. This mall was very different to the one I’d visited earlier in the week; this was all black. Race and segregation are still very complicated in South Africa. There may not be legal segregation, but there is most definitely social and economic segregation.

It was back to work yesterday with the day being spent adding shade netting to an enclosure. Oma has finally been removed from the Sussie/Spartacus situation. Sussie and Spartacus are two rhesus macaques who’ve spent their entire lives in zoos and have always been together. Sue was warned of Spartacus’ dominant behavior when they arrived from a zoo in Cape Town. He has apparently injured Sussie multiple times in the past. Things reached a head when Oma was introduced into the neighboring cage. Spartacus became very enamored of her, to the point of attacking Sussie twice, creating large gashes on her legs. From that point on, the trio was under constant observation and finally the decision was made to separate them all. Oma has been moved to an enclosure by the spider monkeys (where she promptly attempted to strangle one). Meanwhile, Sussie and Spartacus are now in separate enclosures, with an empty one between them. Spartacus spent yesterday staring at where Oma used to sit and completely ignoring Sussie, while Sussie spent the day gazing longingly at her former love. Macaque emotions are clearly complicated.

In the evening, we had a braai (barbecue) for all the volunteers. Good food and good conversation well into the night.

This morning, I’ve been making enrichment toys for Sussie, Spartacus, and Oma to encourage their foraging skills. Sussie was like a kid on Christmas morning with hers. The other two are still mourning their lost love.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Release the Macaques

Today was a happy one for the four Barbary macaques here at IPR; they could finally return to their outdoor enclosure. A severe storm a few months ago had damaged much of their enclosure. While repairs and rebuilding have been going on, Solomon and company have been stuck indoors. Finally the big moment came and we all gathered for the door opening. They were out in a flash, climbing up the ladders to sit on the topmost platform. And when I went to get food bowls from the marmosets this evening, they were still happily philosophizing on the joy of the outdoors.

Since it was Thursday, I also had my first Monkey Time, the weekly period when short-termers get to go in one of the enclosures. I spent my Monkey Time with Thimone, the sanctuary’s only tamarind. A fun time was had by all.

And finally, in grand events that took place on February 7, I now have my first sunburn. After a few days of comfortable temperatures, today was an absolute scorcher and the SPF 50 didn’t stop the African sun from giving me a distinct red glow. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

International Primate Rescue

Five new volunteers arrived last night and, as if to welcome them, the heavens opened and the roof leaked. Even buckets couldn’t stop the deluge from flooding the walkway to the kitchen and the communal dining area. Fortunately by this morning, it had dried up.

If you’re wondering why the roof is in such bad shape, such is the nature of living quarters here at IPR. International Primate Rescue founder and owner, Sue originally had a small sanctuary up in Polokwane, about three hours north of here. She rented a property which meant constantly needing to find new rentals every six months or so, and as much as you may think that moving is a pain in the neck, imaging moving with monkeys! Eventually she and her husband made the decision to buy some land closer to Pretoria, but to do that, they needed money. And so, they left the monkeys in the care of a friend and moved to England where they spent five years working and saving. Five years doing something you don’t really want to do in a place you don’t want to be, but knowing the goal at the end – that is dedication.

The mortgage on the land is nearly paid off, but since it is not open to the public and donations are very few and far between, IPR relies entirely on volunteers and their volunteer fees for funding. As Sue explained when she showed me around, it is a constant juggling act for paying bills. My program fees are helping to build an enclosure so that Brandi, a new monkey, can be helped. Brandi is in a pretty dire situation, currently being kept on a very short leash by her owners. She is very dangerous and if IPR doesn’t take her by a certain date, she faces euthanization.

So that sums up one of the difficulties of running a sanctuary. Just when you might start to pay off a few bills, you get a call about an animal that will be euthanized if you can’t find room for them. And that is something Sue aims to avoid if at all possible.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Introducing the Capuchins


Another storm last night meant that this morning was quite overcast and cool, perfect since I was working on a construction project with Kirsty. It’s started to warm up but is still quite comfortable.

I promised to mention some of the capuchins so here we go. Jethro (one of my personal favorites) lives with his mother, Anushka. He is adorable and loves to hold my hand. His mom is quite protective and will quickly intervene if she senses any problems, but he will happily reach through the wire to hold hands whenever I pass. He also grabs for my camera and, when I refuse to give it to him, runs away before engaging in another display of “look I can hang by my tail and I’m coming back so you can love me.”

Next to mother and son are Chino and Willow. Willow had to have her arm amputated after an infection while she lived in a zoo (there is some speculation as to whether her arm could have been saved with proper treatment). Anyway, once she lost her arm, the zoo no longer wanted her on display to the public and she came to the sanctuary. So there’s a lesson for you all: some zoos only want the nice looking animals on display. Willow keeps to herself and has very little to do with anyone, although if she senses that Chino is in trouble, she can throw a pretty mean punch with her one arm.

And then we have Chino.


Chino is the drama queen of the sanctuary. He was rescued from the pet trade as a baby and so was hand reared by one of the volunteers, Jackie. As a result, he is incredibly attached to her and will shriek loudly if he sees or hears her. She was away for a three week vacation shortly before I arrived, and I’m told when she returned, Chino was beside himself with excitement. Once Jackie is around, he wants nothing to do with any other people. But when she’s not around, he will put on quite a show, swinging, dancing, and doing an odd little habit where he clutches his stomach with one arm while bending over, as if he is sick, all the while checking to make sure you are watching.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Introducing the Marmosets

So let me introduce a few of the characters here at the sanctuary, with promises of many more to come over the next few weeks.

Goliath is one of the many marmosets here, mostly rescued from the pet trade. I’ve spent the past few days feeding them, topping up their feed later in the day, and then hand feeding them tiny pellets later in the afternoon. One enclosure contains three meanies, whom we’ve nicknamed the ASBOs (for non-Brits, that refers to Anti-Social Behavior Orders). The three line up like little gangsters when anyone comes near, spiky hair sticking up. They have attitude. Then there’s Bushman, another little meanie. He scratched me on my very first day and then tried to bite me; apparently he’s the same with everyone.

But Goliath is a sweetie. He likes hand hugs. When I hold my hand up to the wire, he reaches around and clutches hold with both hands, and then rubs himself up and down. His mate Barney tends to look unimpressed by the whole shebang.

Incidentally, I have a namesake here. There is a marmoset named Fiona, but sadly I have no fun stories to tell about her yet. She shares an enclosure with Goofy, an elderly marmoset who is now quite senile. He sits around looking generally confused, and often has to be reminded to eat.

That’s just a few of the marmosets. Tomorrow, I’ll tell you about the real crazy cuties – the capuchins.
In other news, the weather for the last few days has been hot, hot, hot – close to 40 degrees. Today was much cooler, only 34 degrees. Last night the winds really whipped up and for a couple of hours, it seemed as though the roof might blow off, while leaves and debris from outside came blowing in. It sounds like it’s whipping up again this evening. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Heat!

Is it possible to have too much liquid? I know it is, but I don’t think it’s even remotely possible in this weather.

Today, I helped dig a ditch for a bathtub; the four Barbary macaques will enjoy a nice cool soak to escape the sun. After that, it was my turn to have cuddle time with Oma. Oma is a rather elderly (about 25 years old) macaque who has spent most of her life around humans and, as a result, has very little idea of how to be a monkey. She loves human contact, so much so that cuddle time is a part of the regular schedule. I was warned not to make eye contact and to let her come to me. I needn’t have been concerned. She came straight over, pulled off my baseball cap, climbed onto my shoulder and spent most of the next hour grooming me. She was fascinated by my hair and also spent time licking my ears, grooming my arms, and then laying back to let me groom her. I didn’t have my camera with me so I promise to take my phonecam with me next time (my new Nikon is way too nice to risk in the enclosure). 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Arrived at IPR

It is 7.30am and those of you who know me will be surprised to find that I have been up and awake since 5.30. It won’t last – combination of jetlag and new surroundings.

The flight was long, too long – a sixteen hour cycle of try to watch a movie, try to sleep, stretch legs, and repeat. Add some turbulence and you have all the makings of a fun flight to Africa.

I got in later that expected last night but my first impression of South Africa was how much it looks like England. Green fields and the scenery on the drive from Johannesburg to the sanctuary is oddly reminiscent of the English countryside, much more than I ever expected. In addition, the radio played a lot of British 80s and 90s pop that I rarely hear in the US, and even some of the ads have impeccable English accents. But then, they switch seamlessly between English and Afrikaans.

Since I got in so late, I didn’t have a chance to look around the sanctuary, but I jump straight into things today. There are lots of other volunteers here, mostly from the UK, a few Americans and Australians. The couple who lives next door to the sanctuary, Astrid and Manie, operates a shuttle and tour service, as well as preparing meals for those of us who want to order them. They also operate a bar for the volunteers.
For the next three weeks I am sharing a dorm room with some of the other volunteers (and incidentally, at 40, I am by far the oldest). A bunk, a small locker, one shower between about 18 of us, and plenty of cats and dogs running around everywhere. But don’t worry – I’ll get to the monkeys….

So end of day one, and it’s been a hot one. 40 degrees! A morning of getting to know the marmosets and giving them their nutritional supplements. A two hour break for lunch so down to laze by the pool, and then another few hours of work, today cleaning the feeding trays and then feeding the marmosets again. I then decided to walk to the nearest supermarket. As it happens, this was not the best idea given the heat and the fact that once I got there, it was closed. Luckily they opened up for me but with no power, I grabbed a few basics in darkness and left it at that. I bought a few more bits and pieces at the shop on site so I won’t starve today or tomorrow. But I’m thinking I may make use of Astrid’s cooking skills and take out menu a lot more than I had planned. Since the fridges are so overcrowded, that wouldn’t be a bad idea anyway.