THE ORPHANED CHIMP WHO BECAME MY BABY
When Scot Mandi volunteered to work in the jungles of Cameroon she couldn't know that she'd end up being mum to an adorable ten-month-old ape called Nanga
By Samantha Booth
NANGA the baby chimp is one lucky little ape.The adorable infant found a surrogate mum in Scots volunteer Mandi Stark at a Cameroon ape sanctuary, but many young chimpanzees and gorillas face far bleaker futures.
Orphaned by hunters out to bag trophies or to harvest meat to sell on the black market, many end up as pets of people who don't know how to care for them. Others, too young to look after themselves, simply die of hunger.
It is illegal to hunt or kill any kind of apes, but that does not stop the commercial hunters.
As Mandisaw, the results can be heartbreaking.
The 26-year-old, from Ladybank, Fife, said: "Apes are so similar to us and show so many signs of intelligence that it is incredible to think that we could hurt them in any way, but wedo.
"Tribes used to occasionally kill a chimp or monkey for food, but that was sustainable.
"Now, though, the rate at which they are being killed just can't be kept up.
"Numbers are falling all the time and we do nothing to stop it. In fact, we make the situation worse.
"The western demand for wood means the timber companies build huge roads through the forests which, as well as destroying the chimps' habitat, gives the hunters easier access to the forests.
"And I just can't understand why, if you think it is okay to machete chimpanzees to death, it is all right to leave the babies behind. I know itis because there is not enough meat on them, but surely it would be kinder to just kill them.
"Sometimes people hear their cries in the forest and bring them into a sanctuary.
"But a lot of the time people find them and keep them for pets.
"But they become too difficult to manage and by the time they are brought into the sanctuary, they are too big to do anything with.
"The ones left in the forest often starve to death.
"And after having spent so much time with Nanga discovering how human he could be, I find the whole thing heartbreakingly difficult to believe."
Mandi travelled to Cameroon in May this year.
She arrived in the spartan forest village where she was to work as a volunteer for three months on a Saturday night.
By Sunday morning, she had been rescued from being sold as a pet on the black market, to look after.
She said: "He was only 10 months old and there was a worry about how he would take to me.
"But as soon as I went to pick him up, he just put his arms round me and cuddled me.From then on, he was like my baby."
Nanga spent every waking and sleeping moment with Mandi for the next three months.
Wherever she went, he went and Mandi couldn't go to bed until the baby chimp had fallen asleep.
In the morning, she would wash Nanga, taking off the nappy he had to wear at night, and feed him his breakfast of bananas, pineapples or mangos.
Then the rest of the day would be spent playing games designed to encourage the chimp to climb and be as chimp-like as possible, while also keeping him entertained and satisfying his toddler-like curiosity.
Mandi said: "It was incredibly hard work, but also very rewarding - just like having a baby.
"I was never without him and he could be just as cheeky and temperamental as a toddler.
"One day he would eat nothing but bananas, but a day later he wouldn't even look at them.
"There was also times that, even although he had his back to me, I knew he was getting ready to pull a face. Then he would suddenly spin round bearing all his teeth cheekily.
"Nanga also loved being tickled and would giggle away for hours.
"He didn't like water, but one day he fell into a full bucket.
"For a couple of seconds, he screamed just like a baby.
"But then he suddenly realised he liked it and splashed about for ages, chuckling away to himself.
"I also had to act like another chimp for him which meant grooming him every day.
"I would go through his fur with my fingers, picking out any little bugs and mites. If I found any, I had to give them to him to eat and pretend to eat one myself THE sanctuary where Mandi worked had around 100 animals including chimps, baboons and gorillas, and the village was swarming with mambas and cobras.
Luckily, she never encountered any of the deadly snakes during her time there.
She lived in a basic wooden hut, survived on rice and fresh fruit and only had a bucket of water to bathe in.
And for much of the time, she and Nanga lived on their own, completely away from the villagers and the other sanctuary workers and animals. She said: "It could be incredibly lonely and I did get a touch of cabin fever at times.
"But spending so much one-to-one time with Nanga was fantastic. It was tough in other ways as well.The only way I could get washed was in a bucket with a flannel.
"If you have spent your whole day with a chimp, you do tend to get covered in banana.
"But in all honesty, things were not as basic as I had thought they might be and getting to know Nanga so well was more than worth it.
"Leaving him was incredibly difficult.
"I had to go when he was sleeping because hewas like my baby and it was a huge wrench to leave him.
"But I do keep in constant touch with the sanctuary to see how he is doing."
Mandi graduated from Glasgow University in 2001 with a degree in zoology.
All her life she has loved animals, particularly apes, so it seemed the ideal subject for her to study.
But as many graduates find, a job was hard to come by. So after almost a year working in a call centre, Mandi took a job as a film festival co-ordinator.
She said: "I had hoped to maybe get into making natural history documentaries, but this job ended up having absolutely nothing to do with animals.
"Still I did enjoy it and stayed with them for quite a while.
"But earlier this year I knew it was time for a change and I knew I really wanted to go to Cameroon and work with the chimps." Since coming back from the west African republic to Scotland a few weeks ago, Mandi has already returned to Africa.
This time she visited Uganda to follow in the footsteps of conservationist Dian Fossey, who was made famous in the movie Gorillas In The Mist, starring Sigourney Weaver.
She was there for just over a week to take a look at wildlife projects, but unfortunately never saw a gorilla.
But she is already planning several fund-raising events to finance trips next year to work with gorillas in Uganda and Zimbabwe.
And Mandi hopes that, like Dian Fossey, helping to rescue baby chimps and gorillas orphaned by hunters will become her life's work
IF you would like to help support Mandi in her work, email her at email@example.com or to find out more about the plight of Africa's apes, click on to www.4apes.org or www.ifaw.org
"People protect what they love."
- Jacques-Yves Cousteau
This site would not be complete without a mention of the red capped Captain him self.. Jacques-Yves Cousteau..