I am back in the forest, sat in my chair on the veranda. Its 5am and my dogs are snoring around my feet and I can hear the sanctuary coming to life. A gorilla chestbeat from Bobo’s group, whilst Wazak’s group start hooting to let everyone else know the chimps are awake and that they need to wake up as well! 

I’m home.

3 months and two weeks is the longest I’ve been away in the nearly 20 years I’ve been in Cameroon. And now sat here it doesn’t really feel that long. There were times when the days all mixed into one and I lost track of the dates, even which month it was at times. And now it feels like I’ve never been away. It’s like slipping on a comfy pair of shoes again.

When I arrived in the forest, after saying hello to the team and having a cup of tea, I went to see Bertie. He was sat in his usual corner watching the world go by, protecting the rest of his family. As soon as he saw the truck he started hooting to the other chimps to inform them. I was then greeted by the chimp chorus. It was good to see Bertie. I sat watching as the other chimps gently groomed him and when he decided our conversation was over he walked away, the rest of his family following him in single file. After they had gone back into the forest I sat a little while longer wondering what thoughts or feelings he has about Ashmael? One day she was there, right by his side, the next we had to remove her from the group and then he never saw her again. How do you explain that?

Bertie. Image © Ape Action Africa / Stephanie Brien

I get back in the truck and drive back to the village. My next check is Shufai’s group. Appolinaire and I walk together to their enclosure and everyone is in the forest. I call out to them. Suddenly, bushes move and I can hear their familiar grumbling and all the group come out to say hello. Nona runs straight to where I’m standing and starts singing – it’s such a wonderfully warm welcome back. We walk the perimeter of the enclosure with all the gorillas following us in an orderly line - Shufai leading, Nona still singing. 

It takes me several days to go around visiting and checking all the enclosures, a fair few miles walked by the end of it. Everyone looks so healthy - some a little too healthy! Special diets will be needed here and there, including for myself! 3 months of not being able to move much have added a few unwelcome pounds!

The forest looks beautiful. It’s the end of the rainy season and everything looks lush and fresh. The team have done an amazing job and I’m really proud and grateful to each of them for getting through this unprecedented period in all of our lives.

Like the rest of the world, we have had to adapt. There is no fast solution here and we still need to make many more changes and compromises in order for us to get through this time, however long that may be. As someone said to me, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. And that’s exactly what it is. Put one foot in front of the other at a comfortable pace, keep looking forward, and don’t stop. 

So, that’s exactly what we are going to do. Take a day at a time, deal with what’s in front of us one step after another like a slow-moving elephant.

From everyone here in the forest, many many thanks for your continued support during such difficult times. We appreciate you all so much.

Rachel

Banner image - Nona © Ape Action Africa / Tamara de Juana

Rachel will be back in the UK in March 2021 for our first UK fundraising event - An Evening with Ape Action Africa. If you'd like to attend this fabulous black-tie event and have the chance to hear Rachel talk about the life-saving primate protection work she and the team carry out in Cameroon, tickets are available here

If you're able to help to secure the future of our rescued primates, please consider setting up a small monthly gift or making a one-off donation to our Caring through a Crisis appeal. Every contribution is hugely appreciated.