Hello, I’m Ian. Welcome to my blog for Ape Action Africa. I hope you will enjoy what follows, and I would love to hear from you in the comments below.

I have been a supporter of Ape Action Africa since 2007 and these days I spend my visits at the sanctuary with a camera in hand, making videos and taking photographs - some of which there is a good chance you have already seen. But back in 2007, I arrived as a fresh-faced volunteer who had no idea that my 3-month volunteer stint at Mefou would turn into an 18-month stay, and that 13 years later I would still be obsessively getting back to the sanctuary at every opportunity I can!

Ian Bickerstaff

I first heard about the vital work Ape Action Africa does in a BBC documentary called ‘Ape Hunters’, which I watched around 2004. I have always been fascinated by wildlife and documentaries about it, so I think it is likely I already knew something about the fact that apes are hunted for their meat in parts of Africa, but I recollect being shocked at the scale and complexity of the problem when I watched that show and so decided that I wanted to do something to directly help out.

When I arrived at Mefou I expected to work on maintenance of the park or food preparation, but within a short amount of time, I was asked to help with the care of a group of 10 orphan juvenile chimpanzees, which was a daunting but exciting prospect. In the following weeks, the horizons of my life shrank to the distance between the village around which life at the sanctuary centres and the enclosure in which the baby chimpanzees lived. My days were spent caring for the babies and making sure they were safe and healthy. I would make bottles of milk for them, feed them, clean up after them, and make sure they had a nice, clean, dry place to sleep in the evenings.

It was a wonderful time and although the work was hard and it was sad to be around orphans who I knew had suffered greatly at the hands of humans before reaching the sanctuary, it was still the most amazing experience. It was during the free moments of time that I had when I wasn’t looking after the chimps that I had an opportunity and a reason to use my camera on a regular basis, which really helped me to start developing my photographic skills.

Dibamba and Daniel - two of the young orphans Ian cared for on his first visit to Mefou.

I found that I have endless patience for sitting and watching the primates and as I did, I learnt lots about their behaviour; I learnt how to read their body language and anticipate action that I hoped would lead to good images.  Importantly, I also devised the best places to shoot them through the electric security fence wires that surround their enclosures. The enclosures at Mefou are very secure and get more so every time I visit, which is great for everyone’s safety but it also makes my work as a photographer harder, so knowing where to place myself to get a decent portrait has become a bit of a work of art in itself over time.

Initially, the majority of images that I took were portraits of the primates I cared for. I remember that it would give me particular satisfaction to capture the faces of individuals where they were staring straight down the lens. On subsequent return visits to the sanctuary, I started to focus much more on documenting the day to day goings-on than making portraits of the primates. I wanted to be able to share with my friends and family and supporters of the charity what it was like to be there and to reflect the amazingly hard work that goes into running the place.

My intention for this blog is to share some of my images and to reflect on the individuals they depict or the action that was going on when I captured them. I hope that for those of you who have been lucky enough to visit Mefou my photos will remind you of some happy memories, and for everyone else they will paint a picture of the place and give you a chance to enjoy some of the sights I have seen over the years.

-Ian-

Banner image - some of the individuals in the infant chimpanzee group Ian cared for in 2007

All images © Ape Action Africa / Ian Bickerstaff

With the sanctuary currently closed to visitors and volunteers, the coronavirus pandemic is having a huge impact on our funding. If you can, please consider a donation to help us through this very challenging time. Thank you for all of your support.

Please select a donation amount (required)
Set up a regular payment Donate