There are several opportunities to come face-to-face with natural habitats in support of conservation
The term ‘conservation’ immediately brings to mind national parks, forests, teams of people working to protect species, and, of course, the species themselves, but the issues underlying conservation projects are many and varied. One such project is Ape Action Africa, a UK charity which carries out the majority of its work through its sanctuary in Mefou Primate Park, Cameroon.
This year has already seen some major projects take place in Mefou, not least an ambitious operation to drastically improve the quality of life for Shufai, a young male gorilla taken in by the project when his mother was shot, killing her and badly injuring his arm. Gorillas like Shufai end up in sanctuaries usually because their mothers have been killed by poachers, but the reasons behind the poaching problem are multiple and complex.
Natural habitats, endangered species and their conservation are inextricably linked with human communities and development, and human actions on one side of the world can have far-reaching effects on conservation thousands of miles away. What at first glance can seem like a straightforward ‘cause and effect’ or ‘problem and solution’ situation, will always turn out, on closer examination, to be a multi-faceted issue; the expertise of a variety of people or organisations are required to even begin to make a difference.
Sanctuaries such as Ape Action Africa not only have a responsibility to rescue, rehabilitate and house primates with a range of physical and psychological traumas and needs, but they also need to contribute to the bigger conservation picture by engaging in community development and education, locally and globally, in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner.
When Shufai arrived at Ape Action Africa, months of rehabilitation enabled him to begin integrating into a group of other young gorillas at the sanctuary, learning to get around using his damaged arm. However, as he got older, the damaged bone in his wrist grew more slowly than the rest of his arm, causing pain and hindering his movement, so an operation was carried out in 2012 to remove a piece of damaged bone and allow him to move more freely.
By early 2013, it became clear that Shufai would need a further operation to straighten his arm, so a veterinary team once again flew out to perform the procedure. Pre-op x-rays showed that the damage to Shufai’s arm was worse than anticipated, so the difficult decision was made to amputate his arm to give him the best chance of a pain-free life. The operation went well, and within weeks, Shufai was chest-beating with his other arm and teaching himself to climb trees one-handed – a remarkably quick adaptation which showed how successful the decision to amputate was.
In October and November of 2013, the Great Primate Handshake, a Cardiff-based digital media and conservation non-profit, will be sending staff and volunteers to Cameroon to support Ape Action Africa. The collaboration will document the diversity of crucial aspects of primate conservation the charity is involved in, from local education and community development – including activities such as women’s groups and community football competitions – to the rehabilitation and welfare of Shufai and the sanctuary’s other gorillas, chimpanzees and monkeys.
The Great Primate Handshake began in 2008 with the mission of getting like-minded people together to travel, create and educate in support of conservation. The Handshake prides itself on creating a unique ‘skill-sharing’ environment where participants develop their knowledge whilst working with each other on assignments ranging from small community projects such as One Tree, One Child, One Planet, to world-renowned conservation organisations including the WWF.
To date, the Great Primate Handshake’s projects have taken the form of country-specific 28-day overland expeditions in three locations – Kenya, South Africa and Uganda – working with Oasis Overland to allow the participant to see the whole of the country and work with several projects within a one-month period. These trips provide an opportunity to learn how different types of conservation organisations work and experience the diversity of landscapes, cultures and wildlife that can occur across a country.
Additionally, the two-week trips are a great opportunity for those who wish to volunteer for a shorter time period, while still contributing to a full campaign. It allows the Handshake to spend longer periods of time focusing on each organisation it supports and producing a better picture of the huge complexity of the issues being tackled.
If you are interested in supporting the work of Ape Action Africa through digital media, or want more information about volunteering with the Great Primate Handshake, check out www.primatehandshake.org, or email email@example.com to speak directly to a member of staff.
Photo Credits: Lucy Radford
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