Ape Action Africa: Guardians of Cameroon’s primate legacy

Chimpanzee, Daniel, who lives in the Mefou Park in Cameroon.
Chimpanzee, Daniel, who lives in the Mefou Park in Cameroon.

Courtesy of Ape Action Africa/Ian Bickerstaff

Related Topics:
Biodiversity, Conservation, Solar

Picture a young chimp, once subjected to the horrors of captivity and the whims of the pet trade, now swinging confidently through trees, a sign of restored freedom. Imagine the camaraderie among rescued gorillas as they form close-knit bonds, reminiscent of their wild counterparts. These snapshots of triumph over adversity paint a canvas of hope for biodiversity.

In the heart of Cameroon’s wild expanse, a chorus of life echoes through the trees of Mefou Park, located south of the country’s center region, bearing witness to an extraordinary tale of compassion and resilience. At the helm of this story stands Ape Action Africa, an organization that is at the frontline of forest and biodiversity conservation, working to rewrite the fate of endangered primates orphaned by the sinister illegal bushmeat and pet trades. With a steadfast commitment to conservation, they’re not only saving lives, but changing the narrative of biodiversity preservation.

Climbing chimpanzee called Boo. (Courtesy of Ape Action Africa/Jo Gaweda)

As the sun rises over the horizon, the sanctuary comes to life with a symphony of sounds, resounding tales of resilience, and second chances. Sights and trails greet visitors fortunate enough to step into this haven. Among the towering trees and lush foliage reside the voices of survival, the beating hearts of almost 300 rescued primates. Chimpanzees, gorillas, and small monkeys are given a new chance on life, nestled within the protective embrace of Ape Action Africa, a stark contrast to the horrors they’ve endured. 

“For every individual who is found, rescued and brought here, it is estimated that up to 10 adults died in the wild, with whole families being wiped out to supply the illegal bushmeat trade. And this is not just a Cameroonian problem. It is an international problem,” communications coordinator at Ape Action Africa, Jo Gaweda said.

She stressed the need to protect gorillas, which are classified as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Gorilla, Shufai, whose arm was amputated due to bullet injuries. (Courtesy of Ape Action Africa/Ian Bickerstaff)

Growing challenges in ape conservation

Gaweda spoke of their close collaboration with the Cameroonian government through the ministry of forestry and wildlife, where the ministry confiscates the orphans and hands them over to Ape Action Africa to bond with a new family. 

“This is our 27th year of operation,” she said, a testament to their enduring commitment. However, she expressed a deep concern that “we do not want to be growing, but every year we receive more orphans, meaning we have to build more forest enclosures for individuals who have been taken from their natural home – the wild.” She suggested that their growth is not by design, rather necessity as each year ushers in a new wave of orphans and drives them to build more enclosures and secure additional funding to ensure these innocent lives are safeguarded.

Talapoin monkey, Charles. (Courtesy of Ape Action Africa/Jo Gaweda)

Powered by community and solar energy

Amidst the heartwarming tales of rescue, the innovative use of solar-powered electric fences shines through as visitors tour the sanctuary. Ape Action Africa’s embrace of sustainable technology underscores their commitment to preserving both the lives of primates and the planet. These solar powered fences portray cutting-edge solutions to energy challenges such as access to electricity. 

Ape Action Africa’s impact extends beyond enclosures and energy sources. Their reach is felt through the hearts and minds of local communities. The organization’s dedication to empowering locals and alleviating poverty is revealed in Gaweda’s words. 

“We employ over 50 local Cameroonian staff members and much of the food we provide for the primates is purchased from local farmers,” Gaweda said. The International Union of Forest Research Organizations has recommended that in an effort to alleviate poverty, governmental policies should not only focus on agriculture, infrastructure, and cash transfers, among others, but also take into consideration the role of forests.

The Ape Action Africa family. (Courtesy of Ape Action Africa/Jo Gaweda)

Ape Action Africa also amplifies their conservation efforts through educational programs where their staff members visit local schools and teach the children about conservation, igniting the flames of awareness on the invaluable role these species (primates) play as the “gardeners of the forests,” Gaweda stated. She further explains that by educating the younger generation to preserve forests, we preserve biodiversity.   

This transformative education sets the cornerstone for building a future where humanity and nature coexist in harmony. Forests are not only home to more than three-quarters of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity and a force in tackling climate change, they also intersect with livelihoods by providing food and medicine to more than 1 billion people.

A hopeful future for Cameroon’s apes

As the sun sets over the sanctuary, it casts a warm glow of hope for primates as they see the engraving on Ape Action Africa’s wall. 

“For those who made it to Mefou, you are safe now. For those who sit, waiting, imprisoned, we will find you. For those who live wild and free, we will keep you there.” 

Chimpanzee, Ndongo, just after rescue. (Courtesy of Ape Action Africa/Larry Taylor)

Despite all the conservation efforts, Gaweda still strongly believes that “in an ideal world, we wouldn’t need sanctuaries. I’d be happier if the animals we rescue had been able to stay in the wild. At Ape Action Africa, we try to create a semi-wild space where our rescued primates can live in new family groups in a forested environment as close to their natural habitat as possible.”

The organization doesn’t just rescue and care for primates, they nurture a legacy of compassion and resilience that connects different worlds. According to Gaweda, “We receive a good number of both national and international visitors at the sanctuary every day,” inviting everyone to play a part in primate conservation. 

After spending a few years in Cameroon, Gaweda, a British national, affirmed that “Cameroon has an incredible natural heritage worthy of protection.”

De Brazza’s monkey, Bruce. (Courtesy of Ape Action Africa/Jo Gaweda)
The author stands next to a sign for Ape Action Africa. (Beverly Ndifoin)

At a time when conservation and climate are topical as the world struggles to reach zero carbon emissions, Ape Action Africa emerges as a beacon of hope. Through their efforts, they are not just saving primates, they are sowing the seeds of future harmony with nature. The sanctuary acts as a living classroom, where generations learn to coexist with wildlife.

“If the world cannot protect and save primates from extinction when they are so similar to us, then I don’t think there is much hope for other species,” Gaweda said.

If you are interested in adopting one of the orphan primates, or want to help sustain the conservation efforts of Ape Action Africa, visit www.apeactionafrica.org/donate to make a donation. 

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