about my work at C.A.R.E. over the last three years and about C.A.R.E.’s progress with the rebuild after the fatal fire in 2012.
I was so honored when IPPL's Founder, Dr. Shirley McGreal asked me to speak. Rita (C.A.R.E.'s late Founder) had traveled from South Africa to speak at IPPL's 2006 conference and Pam Mendosa (former volunteer) had also represented C.A.R.E. in 2014, to now be speaking in Rita's place, on behalf of our beloved baboons, was such a privilege.
I arrived at the conference a day early and stayed in one of the lovely guest houses on the property, along with the other speakers. I was in awe of some of the other speakers at the conference, these were some of the real movers and shakers of primate conservation and I felt like I was way out of my league. People like Edwin Wiek, who started the Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand and has been fighting to rescue primates and other wildlife in Thailand. Edwin has successfully returned Orangutans back to Indonesia twice and frequently attends the CITES and PASA conferences. Or, Bala Amarasekaran who started the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Sierra Leone and has helped to successfully end the pet trade of Chimpanzees in Sierra Leone. Or, Dr. Carolyn Bocian who started Rainbow Eco-Farm and Training Center in South Africa. And of course Dr. Shirley McGreal who founded IPPL and has helped support all these primate organizations around the world. It was just so amazing to meet all these people who are, like us at C.A.R.E., so passionate about primates and have dedicated their lives to primate rescue and conservation. Despite my initial nerves and feelings of inadequacy, after the first night of getting to know everyone, I felt like I was one of the group as we shared our stories about the primates we love and work with. I have spent many years at C.A.R.E. and watched it grow, evolve and help it move into what it is becoming today and had a lot of experiences to share with the group.
The meeting started on Friday night with a special dinner at the Holiday INN Express and a presentation given by the IPPL animal care staff. Each Staff member shared stories about the Gibbons they work with at IPPL. It was fascinating to learn more about these primates and to see how much they differ from our baboons. Gibbons are apes, not monkeys, and they come from South East Asia instead of Africa. Gibbons are much more docile compared to our rambunctious baboons, possibly because they live in mated pairs, instead of multi-male, multi-female groups, like baboons. Gibbons also sing. They sing the most beautiful songs that are actually sung to delineate their territory from other families. While at dinner, I had
the honor of having Dr. Shirley McGreal come and sit with us at our table. It was incredible getting to know her. The passion she feels for her Gibbons reminded me a lot of Rita (C.A.R.E.’s Founder) and her passion for her baboons.
Over the next two days presenters gave various talks about their work with primates around the world. These talks were meant to show IPPL members where their donations were put to use and to say thank you for their support. In total there were 9 speakers including myself. I was petrified of giving my presentation because I thought, how could I compare with some of these older, wiser and more experienced speakers. However, my friends Pam Mendosa (former C.A.R.E. volunteer and US Wildlife Rehabilitator), Dr. Carolyn Bocian (researcher and founder of Rainbow Eco-Farm), Meg Barret, and Lynn Barret (former C.A.R.E. volunteers), all managed to calm me down and encourage me that I was capable of doing C.A.R.E. justice. Carolyn even said a prayer with me to give me courage.
Here are the 9 speakers and their topics they presented at the meeting;
The meeting started with a welcoming speech from Shirley and then the presentations begun. Celeste Coles talked to us about her experience hiking in Rwanda to see the Mountain Gorillas where she visited Dianne Fossey’s grave.
After Celeste, Dr. Carolyn Bocian spoke to us about her organization, Rainbow Eco-Farm and Training Center and how their goal is to train South Africans to find jobs protecting the native wildlife and environment. She also spoke about her work in Lekgalemeetse Nature Reserve conducting a field census on the Samango Monkeys in the area. The rangers at the reserve do not have the resources to properly protect the wildlife in the reserve and poaching has become an issue in the area. The hope is that by showing how vital the habitat is for these monkeys, the Nature Reserve could then be better protected.
Next, Bala Amarasekaran introduced us to his center, Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Sierra Leone. He spoke about the many struggles they have had over the past 20 years, surviving wars and the Ebola outbreak in 2014. He also shared how their work has successfully stopped the selling of chimpanzees in Sierra Leone as pets. They are currently working to stop the sale of bush meat in the area, since that is where most of their orphans come from. The following day Bala gave a second presentation on how his organization has started to work more on community projects. Bala finds out which areas have wild chimpanzees that need protecting and then goes into those communities to find out what the people need. He then applies for grants to help the communities do projects like build schools or have access to fresh water. By working with the community, these people are then willing and even want to work with Tacugama to protect the chimpanzees.
Pam Mendosa spoke to us about her experience volunteering in Kenya at the Colobus Trust. She educated us on how the center helps build monkey bridges so the nonhuman primates in the area can safely cross busy roads. The Colobus trust works heavily with the local people in the area to help educate them on conservation and what to do if you find a snare. Pam also was fortunate enough to help with a soft release of four galgos (bush babies) back into the wild. She told us how for a week she got up every 2 hours at night to look where the bush babies were, until finally all four wondered off to reclaim their freedom in the forest.
Edwin Wiek introduced us to his center in Thailand called, Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand (WWFT’s). WWFT rescues all wildlife, not only primates and has to fight against law enforcement corruption in order to rescue many of their animals. Whenever possible non-native primates or wildlife are rescued and sent back to their native countries. However, this is an incredibly lengthy process and can take years. Part of the problem is there are no laws against owning non-native wildlife in the country. The laws prohibit the importation of such animals, but once in the country there are no laws to protect them. Edwin is working hard to try and change some of the laws in the country. The next day Edwin gave a second talk about rescuing and returning illegally traded orangutans back to Indonesia. Edwin’s group has successfully accomplished this task twice in the past, but it took them years to acquire the permits to rescue these orangutans. By time they had the permits, the orangutans were full grown adults, making their successful return to the wild more difficult and less likely, not to mention due to slash and burn tactics for palm oil plantations there is less and less places to do releases. Another problem is it is difficult to locate reputable Orangutans centers in Indonesia. For those reasons Edwin is looking into starting a reputable Orangutan sanctuary in Thailand, until the situation changes in Indonesia.
"Finally, it was my turn to speak. I was terrified, but I knew I had to represent C.A.R.E., and try to express my gratitude as so many of those who attended the meeting had helped C.A.R.E. move forwards and allowed for C.A.R.E. to succeed. It was vital that I put my nerves aside and attempted to do my best to represent an organization that I believe in, for the animals that I have come to love."
I spoke about rebuilding CARE after the fatal fire that claimed the life of our founders Rita Miljo (human) and Old Bobby (baboon) and two other baboons in 2012. I wanted to show all the IPPL members where their monetary donations have been put to use when they donated to help the center.
After taking them on a virtual tour of the rebuild I spoke briefly about our struggles with finding suitable safe release sites and poaching at release sites. My voice started to crack when I spoke of the frustration of working for years to prepare orphans, forming troops for release and see them free and thriving, to see the release being successful; the animals which we once hand-raised completely wild and independent of our help, to have it all ruined by a few thoughtless poachers. Poaching has become a huge threat to wildlife in South Africa, and it is difficult to find hope for the baboons (or all wildlife) at times. When I looked up I noticed everyone in the audience was also crying.
I ended my talk on a positive note; our plans for the future should we receive support; semi-wild enclosures and our new Education Centre which will enable us to confront the problem of poaching in a more effective manner. I also spoke about our plans for more enclosure renovations and semi-wild construction. After, I was finished I felt a huge weight lifted and people seemed to have enjoyed my talk. I gave a second presentation the following day on all the enclosures I have helped remodel over the last three years, thanks to the funding from IPPL and the many volunteers which have labored for the baboons. I also spoke about how these remodels have allowed us to introduce orphans into fully formed troops, giving adult females a chance to be mothers and giving the orphans a more natural upbringing in captivity and a quicker route to the wild.
After I spoke Dr. Angela Maldonado from Fundacion Entropika in Colombia presented her work with owl monkeys. She has been working to change the laws in Colombia to better protect these monkeys. One species of owl monkey is used a lot in laboratory studies, but permits are not readily given out to capture that species. Instead lab researchers are acquiring permits to catch the other species but instead they are capturing the species that they want. They capture these monkeys in another country, where the laws are not as strict and then later release them in Colombia where they have their permits from. This is causing an unnatural hybrid zone to form. Dr. Maldonado is researching the impact of this unnatural hybrid zone. She is also working to involve the local communities by starting community projects. One project she has started is teaching the women to weave nice bags out of trash bags to sell. This both helps eliminate trash and provides the people with an income. Her team recently created a video game to teach children about owl monkeys. The player is an owl monkey trying to prevent being captured by lab researchers.
Next, Sian Evans from DuMond Conservancy in the USA gave an update on Ponso, the loneliest Chimpanzee, who was abandoned in the Ivory Coast by the New York Blood Center. Ponso was in a control group for the blood center and he was left on an islands. Later the New York Blood Center refused to continue caring for these animals. There are people who have taken it upon themselves to continue feeding these chips. Where Ponso was left, however, there does not appear to be any other chimpanzees left on the island. Various primate groups are discussing what to do with him and for the moment it has been decided to leave him there and continue feeding him, with the possibility that more chimpanzees could be on the island.
The following day along with the return speakers, Robin Hoffman shared her experiences at Ape Action Africa in Cameroon. Ape Action Africa is a primate sanctuary that takes in all native primate species. Robin has made many trips to the center over the last few years and has helped care for a variety of orphaned monkeys. It was at Ape Action Africa, that Robin discovered she could paint and she has used her remarkable gift to help beautify sanctuaries and rehabilitation centers around the world. She is going to have her first art show this month in New York to help raise money for primate centers. Robin also frequently visits C.A.R.E. and her work can be seen around the centre on buildings and signs. She painted the signage on our new Veterinary Clinic which was mostly funded thanks to IPPL.
The whole experience at the IPPL Members Meeting was amazing. I felt like I left with many new ideas on how we can help the baboons at C.A.R.E. and better contribute to primate conservation. Meeting Dr. Shirley McGreal was an honor, I got to meet one of my heroes. I hope I am able to attend the next meeting in 2018.
Thank you to Shirley and the IPPL team and supporters for allowing me to share some experiences with you and become empowered to keep working hard for our baboons, our clever, dramatic, funny and adaptable primate.
It is of paramount importance that Molly and her colleagues at C.A.R.E. attend meetings like this one to share our work with a global audience on a very personal level. To be among other primate heroes makes us feel like we are part of a broader network, a broader team and that our struggles are shared globally. Many of the issues C.A.R.E. faces are echoed throughout centers throughout the world and it is essential to know that through supporting one another, we have a louder voice and broader impact.