We had the morning off today, well we ended up with the afternoon off as well since the person who wanted an appointment with us cancelled. So now I get to sit on my balcony, watch the palm trees blow in the breeze and relax.
We wanted a chance to see a bit more of Uganda that from a taxi and the windows of a training center so we planned a trip to Entebbe. This is a lovely town (where the airport is) and where there is access to Lake Victoria. We arrived early and despite many attempts to find some there was no coffee… This is just NOT a coffee country. We finally managed to get a cup before we boarded a boat on Lake Victoria (the second largest fresh water lake in the world second only to our very own Lake Superior! The boat driver did not seem impressed when I told him I often spend time there.
The boat ride took us from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere (that means we crossed the Equator). The boat driver was also not impressed that I live near the 45th parallel. The 45 minute ride took us past many islands, all lush and green as well as fisherman. We docked at “Chimpanzee Island” and were met by our guide, Bruce.
Bruce shared with us the history of the island… The Ugandan’s had rescued many Chimps from smugglers and many orphaned Chimps. They would rehabilitate them and try to release them back to the wild. But the land they had was not sufficient. They became aware of this island where about 3,000 fisherman lived and found it to be the perfect environment for Chimpanzees so they relocated (not sure if this was forceful or compliant or bribed) the fishermen to a nearby Island and set up their rehabilitation center and sanctuary.
The Island now has 48 Chimps. The Chimps are free to roam the island with the exception of a small fenced of area in which the staff live and do their work. There are 2 veterinarians as well as 18 other staff. There are 10 staff on the island at any given day and their schedule is to work for 10 days and then have 5 days off.
The Island does not have enough food for all the chimps so staff feed them 4 times per day (fruits, vegs, and an occasional egg). The chimps know what time the feeding is and always return the fence for feeding time. Then they are back off to the woods to do what chimps do. They also come into an enclosure at night where they have hammocks filled with hay.
All of the chimps have been rescued with the exception of one who was born on the island. When a chimp is found sick, traumatized or being smuggled, they are brought to the island. Then they are in isolation for 3 months where they are cured of any diseases, made sure they are familiar with the staff and the environment and establish a healthy routine. Then they are moved to the transitional phase. I guess you can’t just let a chimp join a pack. It will not stand a chance to be accepted. So they take 2 or 3 of the nurturing females and have the newcomer live with them for however long it takes to be assimilated. Usually it is about three months and can take up to a year. By the time they are let out into the pack, the surrogate mother is protective of the new one and it is accepted.
The one exception to this is a chimp named “Surprise”. You see, all the chimps are given contraception so they do not breed. (if they were allowed to breed they would outgrow the island and chaos would ensue. But, as Bruce delicately told us, contraception does not always work. And one day Robbie and Katie disappeared. They made a few appearances of three weeks, but when they finally joined back up with the rest of the chimps Katie was pregnant. So when her baby was born, she was named “Surprise”. All the female chimps loved her and she was very spoiled. Now the staff state she is stubborn and feel she has been too spoiled.
There is also an Alpha male in the pack. This has changed over the years. Often the Alfa becomes to overwhelmed with responsibility and “goes crazy”. 5 days before our arrival the current Alfa disappeared. The staff are having a meeting today to discuss if they should go find him, as it could be very dangerous. Meanwhile, there are about 3 males competing for the open spot.
Bruce told us there is a hierarchy in the group and if the group decides they have a type of “Coup” to over throw the current alpha. The staff usually see it coming. Each chimp has a unique look and personality. Our guide could name each one, even from a distance. He could tell us stories about each one. One of the chimps at this sanctuary was named the “smartest chimp in the world” by German scientists as she was not only able to solve difficult puzzles and tests, but she was able to get others to cooperate to when more were needed in problem solving.
Jane Goodall has been to the Island many times and we saw pictures of her with the staff. Disney is also a big supporter and sponsors one staff per year to come to work and study at Disney World. We told our guide if he got picked we would come visit him.
We saw many similarities between our work, helping Orphans and Vulnerable Children, and their work, helping orphaned and vulnerable chimps. You can even sponsor a Chimp. There was one chimp there that was rocking back and forth. Bruce told us she was found lying in her dead mother’s arms. Her mother’s fingers and nose had been taken by poachers. This poor baby was so traumatized that she still has behaviors that are similar to people who are traumatized, including self-soothing (rocking)
So here is the website if you ever find yourself in Entebbe looking for an adventure: