Traveling abroad can be an amazing experience; you get to meet new people and see sights you would never have expected to see. The unforeseen encounter that this group of vacationers had, though, would save the life of a helpless baby animal and change its fortunes forever.
The group were visiting the Republic of Cameroon in central Africa. It is a beautiful country with a rich culture and diverse people, with the nation boasting one of the highest education attendance rates in Africa. But, like all countries, it has its problems.
For one, the illegal wildlife trade is still booming in Cameroon – poachers can make huge profits from illicitly harvesting animal parts and selling baby animals torn from their dead families into the exotic pet market. In fact, the business is estimated to be worth $8 to $10 billion per annum.
But the group of teachers traveling through a remote area of Cameroon in May 2016 could never have expected to suddenly become face-to-face with this illicit trade. But that is exactly what transpired after they were approached by two boys trying to sell them a backpack.
Curious as to what was inside the bag, the teachers opened it up to take a look. Staring back at them? A pair of large eyes and a furry face. It was then that the teachers immediately began negotiating for the bag and its contents.
A price was agreed on, and the teachers purchased the bag and its occupant: a swollen-eyed baby chimpanzee in dire need of medical help. It’s unknown what suffering the poor primate had already lived through in her short life, but now her bad luck was set to be turned on its head.
The tiny female chimp’s rescuers named her Paula and took her somewhere they knew she would receive the best of care: Ape Action Africa. Back in 1996, the group started as a charity called the Cameroon Wildlife Aid Fund, but after a successful 12 years, it expanded into Ape Action Africa.
The group’s dedicated staff members are all great ape lovers who devote their time to rescuing the victims of the illegal animal trade in Cameroon. Furthermore, Ape Action Africa provides safe natural environments for victims, such as Paula, and allows them to live with others of their kind without fear of poachers.
After her rescue by the teachers, then, Paula was taken to the infirmary at Ape Action Africa’s Mefou Primate Sanctuary. Here, she was lightly sedated so that she could receive the care she needed without undue stress. Indeed, the baby chimp was suffering from severe malnourishment, and the best treatment she could receive was some food and some TLC.
Naturally, Paula was a little anxious with her new surroundings at first, and wary of her rescuers. “Like many orphaned babies, [she is] frightened by tall men with deep voices,” Ape Action Africa later posted on its Facebook page, alluding to the fact that many poachers are most likely men.
However, the adorable chimp soon found security in something. “When we met her she never moved far away from her plastic football, which gave her great comfort,” the group posted on Facebook. “We brought it with us and she now sleeps with it in her bed at Mefou Sanctuary.”
In fact, Ape Action Africa reported that Paula didn’t let go of her ball even when she was feeding – and eating was the main priority. The charity also posted that Paula was “still suffering from malnutrition, which is visible in her puffy eyes and sunken cheeks,” despite her apparent love of papaya.
Paula’s passion for the fruit, however, perhaps fueled her gradual recovery over the next couple of months. Subsequently, she gained in strength and confidence – both in herself and with her rescuers.
“Eventually Paula settled next to our photographer Ian and allowed him to gently groom her while she investigated his pockets,” Ape Action Africa reported. “When it was time to leave [to go to the sanctuary] she decided he would be her travel partner.”
However, what Paula didn’t know was that her arrival at the sanctuary would be the start of a brand new life. Because in early July, she was introduced to two kindred souls that shared burdened pasts just like hers, and they would help mend the heartache of her lost family.
A year earlier, in April 2015, sanctuary-born Little Larry was left without a family when his mommy couldn’t care for him anymore. So Ape Action Africa staffers hand-reared the little tyke until he was old enough to survive on his own. But, as a growing boy, Larry still needed a family of his own species from which to learn life skills.
Expert tree-climber Daphne, meanwhile, was rescued in 2014 when she was only six months old. She had endured a horrifying start to her life, having been found among a trove of her family’s dismembered limbs and heads that traffickers were trying to smuggle into Nigeria.
These three chimps met for the first time at Ape Action Africa. The charity posted on Facebook, “Since being introduced to Daphne and Little Larry, our newest addition Paula has become more confident with her new friends.” Indeed, Daphne, “a daredevil climber” has “taken Paula under her wing and as a result, little Paula is climbing to new heights.”
Meanwhile, Little Larry has also been spending time with Paula, and although he prefers his friendships to take place at ground level for now, they have even been sharing fruit together. “[They bond] well and we are confident that the trio will soon be a tight-knit family,” the sanctuary added.
As a result of Ape Action Africa’s work, these three lost souls have found each other and seem to be well on their way to being a family. While what these poor chimps have lost can never be replaced, the Mefou Primate Sanctuary will see to it that great apes like these won’t have to worry about poachers again.