Photography: Mukuhi Wanjohi
Location: Sweetwaters chimpanzee sanctuary (Ol pejeta conservancy)
Have you ever been to the chimpanzee sanctuary at Ol pejeta conservancy? If not let me tell you what you have been missing. Anyone who went through the Kenyan 8-4-4 education system must have been told that primates are our closest relatives based on the evolution theory and the general appearance of apes (whichever kind). At that time none of us set out to understand that statement because truth is we were just trying to pass our exams and move on to the next level. This place will not only elaborate the statement but also answer all the questions you were afraid to ask your history teacher.
Interacting with chimpanzees and listening to Yego (my favorite guide at the sanctuary) has made understand just how close we are. I was a little girl during my first visit here and my most memorable chimpanzee was Bahati who came out as quite the show off as he jumped from one branch to the other. Back in those days, one could go on a boat ride in the Ewaso Ngiro river and so we huddled into a boat and off we went. One of the chimpanzees (most likely Max) ran after the boat and threw as many stones as he could at our boat. Let’s just say 95% of that boat ride was spent crouching inside the boat praying that the stones would not make it inside. Yego told me the boat rides have since been abolished because a chimp once jumped into a boat and beat up a tourist injuring her seriously
Occasionally Max still throws stones at people but I can’t blame him considering his traumatic past and that of the other chimps in the sanctuary. Most of them are refugees of war from Central Africa while others like Mary were kept in captivity in South Sudan. Others were transported across international borders in inhumane conditions before they found a home at Sweetwaters.
These creatures are very intelligent and have an amazing memory. A few weeks back, I found Max really agitated throwing stones at everything and everyone. My guide that day told me it was because a certain politician came to visit bringing along his gun-bearing security detail. Did I mention chimps have a good memory and they still remember the guns and the war in the Congo? Those security guys tried to hide behind view tower but Max was determined to show them who was the boss in that territory. On that note, I think America needs chimps like Max who have zero tolerance for guns.
Chimpanzees walk on their fours but some can stand or move on their twos. No one does it better than Poco. Last week he was lying in the bushes but the moment a bunch of school kids showed up he got up and gave them a show to remember. I don’t think they will ever forget it the same way I have never forgotten Bahati.
Unfortunately, Chimpanzees in captivity do not have the opportunities to exploit their full potential like their counterparts in the wild. Remember how in Madagascar ( the animation) Marty was fascinated by the thought of going out to the wild, am sure some of these chimps feel the same way. Lucky for them Ol pejeta engages them in a number of activities to keep them active and creative. According to Yego and maybe science, the females are more intelligent than the males. There have been incidents where they have orchestrated a ‘prison break’ by tampering with the electric fence but not to worry if this ever happens when you are there because there is a visitors safety cage where one can run for safety.
Judy has the saddest eyes I have ever seen. Makes you want to breach the electric fence and go give her a hug. She uses her forearms for movement since polio affected her hind legs. She is, however, a lovely chimp who makes funny faces and nods when you speak to her.
This one (Cant remember his name) grew up in ‘shags’ because he knows that when you have a thorn in your flesh, you use another thorn to remove it. If that is not being brilliant, I don’t know what is.
I could go on and on about these amazing creatures but I will leave with a few facts about chimpanzees
- They are humans closest relatives with 98% of our genetic makeup
- Their main habitat is rainforests and sometimes open Savannah and woodlands
- They live in families with usually with one dominant male who has the mating rights (according to Yego there are clande manenos in chimpanzee world)
- They are endangered due to habitat loss, hunting for bushmeat and commercial trade.
- They can walk on fours but can stand upright and move on their two
You can become part of the Chimpanzee story by visiting the sweetwaters chimpanzee sanctuary especially the adoption center. Here you can adopt as many chimpanzees as you want from rates as low as 10$. Every dollar counts so go to the adoption center here and make your contribution.
Until next time, thank you for reading…