Taronga Zoo staff Kirsty and Brad are currently in Tchimpounga located in the Republic of Congo on Zoofriend & Conservation Fellowships
It took almost 3 days of travel from Sydney to Pointe Noire and Tchimpounga Sanctuary! After recovering from the long trip, we're already working with Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) staff.
Today we went to visit a group of mandrills that were released about 18 months ago. To get to them, we had to drive for 3 hours through some very heavy and dense jungle, and then a short boat ride from a base camp.
We drove through a lot of small villages where loads of little kids would run up to the cars shouting "Bon bons," hoping for us to give them candy. We spotted some hunters at the side of the road, they're not discreet at all and don't try to hide their guns. Bushmeat is a major source of income for them. They have domestic animals for protein, but they hunt bushmeat for the elite market back in Pointe Noire and further, knowing full well that they're breaking laws designed to protect these precious and endangered animals. It's a complex problem, but the team here are doing a lot of great work to try and resolve it.
JGI staff stay on site and take care of the mandrills constantly, but the animals are free to roam as far as they like through the forest. The mandrills are all orphaned victims of the bushmeat trade, or surrendered pets.
Mandrills are absolutely fascinating - the alpha males have beautiful blue and red faces that look as though they've been painted on. In the wild they'll live in large colonies of sometimes up to many hundreds of animals. In the wild, the young males learn how to copulate with the females from a very young age. The alpha of this group is a big male named Npaka - he was previously someone's pet from a very young age so he never had the opportunity to learn these essential skills and therefore hasn't been able to copulate with any of the females of the group - he doesn't know how!
We got back to camp just in time to head up to a beautiful ridge with an amazing view for some sundowners, before heading back to the sanctuary for yet another fantastic meal - tonight we had Indian with an Amarula night cap with caramello koalas.
Tomorrow Brad heads out to the islands for a week and I'll be making a start on my first task which is writing up and updating chimp biographies. I'll need to interview the staff to get a lot of the information I need, so my limited French will be a challenge, but will see how I go. My plan at this stage is to learn and practise the questions I want to ask in French, and then record their answers on my phone so I can try to spend some time translating later. Celine, a French vet who is heading to the islands with Brad tomorrow, will help me fill in the blanks when she's back. Wish me luck folks!