Of all of the reasons that motivated me to travel to Cameroon in 2007 to volunteer at Ape Action Africa, the possibility of spending time in close proximity to chimpanzees was a significant one.

I didn’t expect to work with them directly, as during the interview process the volunteer coordinator had gone to great lengths to explain that this would be very unlikely to happen, but I hoped that I would have time to occasionally sit and watch our closest relatives in the animal world and to learn a bit more about them.

Until I went to Cameroon my exposure to chimpanzees had been in zoos and on TV. Amongst the many natural history shows I've watched that I’m sure must have featured chimps, it’s funny to think that a series called Monkey Business might have done as much as any David Attenborough documentary to inspire me to travel to Africa to see where they come from in the wild. For a couple of months in the late 90s, I watched Monkey Business semi-religiously and became attached to the human and non-human characters whose lives it depicted, told with wonderful deadpan narration by Chris Serle. The show was quirky but the message it shared about how humans were impacting primates in the wild was important and serious.

As it transpired, Ape Action Africa had a need for help with care for a group of juvenile chimps when I arrived at Mefou, so all of the low expectations I'd held about the work I would be doing were blown out of the water and I was lucky enough to start working with 10 little orphans whose stories never failed to have me blinking away the tears whenever I thought about what they must have experienced before they were lucky enough to find sanctuary at Mefou.

Noah and Kam, 2019

Chimps are truly remarkable animals. Wildly intelligent, endlessly curious, noisily impatient, fiercely protective, startlingly strong and agile, loud communicators, and wonderfully playful. There is so much to be learnt from observing chimpanzees at close quarters and while I have managed to pick up a bit of knowledge about them during my visits to Cameroon, I'm still an amateur on the topic.

Chimps are also startlingly resilient creatures, which is both to their advantage and disadvantage when it comes to their relationship with humans. Baby chimps who are illegally taken from the wild by hunters have a survival instinct that helps them overcome their trauma if they are lucky enough to be rescued and find the right care. On the flip side, I have heard many stories in my time in Cameroon of captured chimps being kept in horrible conditions for years before they are rescued; their resilience causing them to persevere with living through the pain and fear and boredom when other captive creatures might give up.

Noah and Kam, who feature in the image for today's blog are both relatively recent arrivals at Mefou and are depicted here doing what baby chimps do best - play. It is always a joy when a rescued chimp adds play and laughter to his or her repertoire, both of which are on show in this scene.


If you're in a position to contribute towards the care of orphaned apes like Noah and Kam, please consider a donation to our Giving Day for Apes campaign, starting on September 14th. Your gifts will not only help to provide our rescued gorillas and chimps with food, veterinary treatment and care, but could also help us to win thousands of dollars in prizes. You'll find more information about the campaign on our social media platforms next week. Huge thanks to everyone who continues to support our work through these difficult times.