I find that news of a new arrival at the sanctuary evokes very mixed emotions. On the one hand it's comforting to know that another individual has been rescued and is safe from further harm but it's impossible to separate that from the sad knowledge that he or she will have suffered some level of trauma or violence or both in the time preceding their rescue and that in all likelihood they witnessed the death of their mother and other family members when they were taken from the wild.

News of the confiscation of a baby chimp by eco-guards in a town called Djoum filtered through to Rachel and the team in September 2017 but further details were sketchy. Djoum is located on the border of the Dja Faunal Reserve, which is a forest area of significant importance for wildlife in the south of Cameroon and which is sadly very attractive to poachers as result.

Over the course of a day or two information came through to Rachel that indicated that the baby chimp would be driven to Mefou from Djoum by the eco-guards but she wasn't informed exactly when they would be leaving and so we experienced more than a day of nervous anticipation as we awaited their arrival. Roads in that part of Cameroon can be very hard to get through and are sometimes impassable when it rains. As we waited for the chimp to arrive I found myself wondering how he or she would be transported and whether the recent experiences of their life would have any lasting impact on them.

For hours we sat and waited for news but didn't hear anything. As night fell we would alternately sit inside and outside of the administration office in the forest and listen intently for the sound of a car. There are very few vehicles that pass by the forest and even fewer in the evening, so after a certain time we felt assured that if we heard a car it would very likely be the eco-guards and their precious passenger.

When the sound of an engine did finally arrive it was followed moments later by the headlights of an old car rounding the bend as it struggled to make it up the hill that immediately precedes the entrance to the sanctuary. The car pulled up, the two eco-guards within were greeted by Rachel and Babs and as quietly as possible they moved to the back of the car, where they had been told the chimp was located.

The individual within was tiny, alone and trying very hard to hold their own in the face of a bewildering series of events. Backed into a corner of the boot of the car he grasped on a seatbelt and made sure to tell Babs off as he attempted to make friends and retrieve him from the vehicle. The eco-guards advised that the chimp was 'tranquil' - quiet or placid - and with that Babs reached into the car and scooped him out and headed towards the office.

As Babs worked on the official paperwork with the eco-guards, Rachel took the little male chimp (who she soon named Farah, in honour of the legendary British runner Mo Farah) and offered him some water. He took it but remained wary of the situation and very busily explored the new surroundings in the office. He wasn't scared, nor was he confident, he just seemed completely stunned by everything that had happened to him within the past few days. He didn't seek comfort, nor reject it; he was a baby chimp in a totally alien situation doing what he had to do to survive.

Very shortly after, Rachel walked Farah down to the room where he would spend his first night at Mefou and helped settle him in with Stephanie, who would be caring for him through the night. He took a small drink of milk from her and attempted to rearrange some bedding leaves into a nest before we left him and Stephanie together.

A day or two later I went to visit Farah and it was during this time that I made the portrait of him that accompanies this story and which is one of the images from Mefou of which I am most proud. Photographs can be such tricksy things; a split-second moment captured by a camera can really slant the viewer's reading of a situation - a happy scene can appear sad, or vice versa - depending on how the photographer decides to tell the story visually. Farah settled into life very quickly at Mefou and when I made that visit to him he was for the most part happily playing with Stephanie or enjoying having her groom him. For a few seconds, however, he sat and looked at me and that sense of bewilderment pervaded his face and all over again I thought about all of the completely unnatural experiences he had recently lived through at the hands of people who changed his life forever.

Ian Bickerstaff

Huge thanks to Ian for everything he's done for Ape Action Africa since his first trip to Cameroon in 2007. Whether he's capturing fantastic shots in the forest, running our website or raising funds and awareness with his photography, we greatly appreciate his support and friendship.

To see how Farah is doing now, take a look at our Farah update from earlier this year.

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