It's raining and cold here this morning, so sitting in the garden with my brew listening to the world waking up isn’t possible. This morning I’m sat in the front room wrapped in my blanket with Ethel, our doggy member of the family, snuggled up under the blanket with me. I'm waiting for the forest to wake up so Tamara can send me a message on how Mbailassem is doing after spending his first night with his new temporary infant chimp family - the family he'll stay with until he can finally be introduced to a forever gorilla family.

As I’m sat drinking my coffee, I start remembering all the infant gorillas Appolinaire and I have cared for and all the care needed to get them to the stage where they are ready to meet their new families. I chuckle to myself as I remember when Nkan and Shai were little. The 3 of us slept on a mattress on the floor. I normally woke up on the floor as once those two spread themselves out there wasn’t any space for me! Once they were asleep, it was then time for Appolinaire to try and get in and for me to get out so I could have my shower before they woke for the first of 3 bottles of milk they would have during the night. This wasn’t an easy task. They were both always so convincing that they were deeply asleep until I would try to move and Appolinaire would take my position at the side of the mattress. As soon as their nostrils started to move, flaring in and out as they realised my smell wasn’t there and had been replaced by Appolinaire's, it was time to move quickly. Appolinaire would be frantically shouting but in a whispered tone, which isn’t easy! "Go now, quick, move." A commando roll off the mattress and, still on my hands and knees, I would head to the door and to the bathroom for my 5-minute shower, quick cup of tea and then my commando roll back into the room with a good 10 minutes to spare before the first, usually Nkan, would wake for his bottle.

Nkan Daniel in 2002. Image © Ape Action Africa / Caroline McLaney

Nkan and Shai were lucky they had each other to grow up with. Mbailassem is still too small to be introduced to our other gorillas, but he is desperate to have some great ape company. So, the next best thing is that he gets some play days with our infant chimp group. It's been going really well. Tamara and the infant caregivers have done a great job slowly introducing him to the group. One by one Mbailassem has spent a little time each day in the forest with his new friends until he was finally spending all day with them, and now all the signs show he is ready to spend the night with them. Their caregivers sleep in the room opposite the babies. They are all at the age now where everyone sleeps through the night and doesn’t wake for a bottle, a good indication they are ready to sleep with others.

I wonder if Mbailassem wakes in the night; if he has slept well or it's been a difficult night for him. Before this decision was made, we discussed it in one of our online meetings so we could be sure he was ready. Tamara, Appolinaire and Alvine, one of our infant caregivers, would all be listening out and checking on him throughout the night to make sure he was settled. It's times like this that I miss the forest even more than usual. Sanctuary life continues, has to continue regardless of a virus, and the team are doing a great job keeping “normal” life moving.

Mbailassem. Image © Ape Action Africa / Alex Benitez

It's time for me to start work, more documents to work on. I’m not feeling the love this morning, and the thought of spending most of the day in front of my laptop doesn’t exactly fill me with joy. Another coffee, that’s what I need and I’ll be ready to roll. In the forest, it’s always 2 cups of coffee to get me moving, one sat on my veranda whilst everyone is still sleeping and the second when I get to the village at 7 am. A big mug of Cressance’s coffee, always with too much sugar in but that’s what makes it great! 

The phone pings. Mbailassem had a good night. He woke a few times and cried a little but not much, then drifted back off to sleep. He woke up with the other chimps, they all had their breakfast bottle and he is now busy playing while waiting until it’s time to go into the forest. Tamara tells me he looks a little tired but he did really well.

Another great job team. I’m now sporting a very big smile, and the thought of sitting in front of my laptop for the next few hours isn’t that bad after all! Mbailassem is one day closer to meeting his gorilla family and I'm another day closer to getting home to the forest.

Stay safe, stay inside, save lives.


Banner image - Mbailassem. Image © Ape Action Africa / Alex Benitez

Find out more about Mbailassem and his new friends later this week.

If you missed Rachel's last post, you can catch up here

If you can help us care for our 25 rescued gorillas during this difficult time, please donate to our Buy a Gorilla a Dinner appeal. Just £5 can feed one of our adult silverbacks for a day. 

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