Good News from Africa!

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It is rare that we hear good news about gorillas from Africa,
but this update brings hope in the form of three stories and
an opportunity to do more:

Beacon of hope (New Baby)

A most powerful reminder of the good we humans can do, a new baby gorilla has been born at the Michael habitat in Cameroon. Mother Avishag, one of the original babies herself at the sanctuary, and her baby are both doing well in the safe care provided by dedicated staff and supported by Foundation members. (Click for larger photo.)

Letter from Mefou (by volunteer Robin Huffman)

Robin Huffman, a Gorilla Foundation member who spent the summer as a volunteer at the Mefou Sanctuary, describes her experience in this article she wrote for us. A devoted gorilla lover, she nonetheless fostered tiny monkeys while expressing her devotion to the gorillas and staff through beautiful paintings.

“Michael” Nursery Habitat Under Construction
Construction of the new habitat for the ten rescued orphans in the current tiny nursery has begun. Clearing has been completed for the perimeter fence surrounding the 2.5-acre habitat and the four baby bungalows that will be built, and materials are being ordered: steel, concrete, solar panels, rainwater capture systems; to build a strong and safe habitat to allow these babies to grow and thrive.
Your Power to Do Good

Funding for the new “Michael” gorilla nursery habitat (to be renamed) in Cameroon is more than half-way complete, but you can still participate in this most exciting and important project. Your donation now can help assure a safe future for these rare and majestic beings. Please email [email protected].

Letter from Mefou (Oct. 2007):
“Sitting with the gorillas….a love story”
by Robin Huffman
(photos by Hagit Alphandary)

  Robin, Shufai and Appolinaire, head keeper of the gorilla nursery

I used to like gorillas. Then, 8 years ago at a career seminar, I heard about a woman who became a surrogate gorilla mother. Wow! I became fixated on the gentle giants, even visiting the Bronx Zoo to apply for that job (but was told their gorillas are doing just fine). Three years ago I made a gorilla mask for a World Wildlife Fund auction, for which I had to study photographs of their faces. That’s when I fell in love.

Last year it occurred to me that the place I could get the closest to them wouldn’t be the Bronx Zoo – it would be where it’s a desperate situation. My Internet search for “gorilla rescue” and “gorilla orphan” led to the Cameroon Wildlife Aid Fund (CWAF), a sanctuary for orphaned primates. I was excited to see they have a volunteer program, yet at the same time sad that CWAF must exist at all. You see, it’s also when I first learned about the “bushmeat crisis.”

Bushmeat refers to wildlife killed by humans for food. It’s estimated that 2 – 5 million tons a year are consumed in western and central Africa; among these are gorillas, chimpanzees, baboons and monkeys. So the primates at CWAF have all lost their parents. The bushmeat trade is due largely to the logging of exotic African wood for fancy interiors in developed nations. Ironically, I work in an interior design and architectural firm which specifies millions of feet of wood for our clients’ upscale spaces. We in the Western World are responsible.

Robin, painting Shufai and Appolinaire  

By sheer coincidence, at this time I watched a movie called “Instinct” – not realizing it was a story about a devoted gorilla family and then its heartbreaking slaughter. Suddenly, volunteering for CWAF became something I HAD to do, and NOW – as much as breathing in my next breath. There is no time to waste. And that’s what I told CWAF when I applied and got accepted as a volunteer.

On May 31, I rolled into the 2,600-acre Mefou Park where CWAF operates, one hour from Cameroon’s largest city, Yaounde. The sanctuary is home to over 200 primates, including 19 gorillas. Rachel, the English-born manager, guides a staff of 21 full-time workers and 6 – 8 volunteers. Six years ago when she herself was a volunteer with a 2-week old gorilla and the then-CWAF leadership departed, Rachel promised her baby she wouldn’t leave him. She never has.

My experiences there were so profound that it is difficult to know where to start. First of all, the staff – the men, Rachel, and directors Avi and Talila Sivan – are so warm and amusing and dedicated. They love the animals. I can attest to the fact that not one penny slated for running CWAF is wasted, and a dollar goes a long way in Africa. Sometimes it takes going to a place like CWAF to realize how fortunate we are. Being there made me recall the adage, “if everything we had were taken away and then given back to us, we would think ourselves the luckiest person on earth.” That’s how it felt being a volunteer.

  Robin’s finished protrait of Appolinaire and Shufai

The accommodations were less rustic than I had prepared for, which was a pleasant surprise. The insects were more aggressive than I had anticipated; they were my greatest challenge. The food prepared for us was simple and vegetarian, resulting in an effortless shedding of 15 pounds (what a bonus!) And after a month, I found that living a life in rhythm with nature was like remembering a long-lost memory – that I am part of it.

My primary assignments were being a “mommy” to 3 baby monkeys (the greatest joy of my life!), and revamping the signage for the entire park. In the process, I discovered that I am a portrait artist. I’d never been “still” enough in my everyday life to find that out. Because my schedule was flexible and my monkeys portable, I had the privilege…the honor….of visiting the gorillas often. That was another aspect of being still and finding it the most rewarding thing one can do for the soul, just sitting with the gorillas. There is only 2.4% difference in DNA between us and them. They are like us, only finer. When you lock eyes with them, it seems as if they know all the secrets of the universe. I am discovering, too, that always thereafter, while going about my day-to-day life, I feel the absence of their beatific presence.

Having the privilege to serve CWAF and the beloved primates was a life-changing experience, and it is only the beginning of my work. The clock is ticking on the existence of these magnificent creatures. There is no time to waste.

CWAF – the Cameroon Wildlife Aid Fund – is the non-profit organization that operates the Mefou National Park, a sanctuary for several species of primates orphaned by illegal poaching. They are a local organization focused solely on primate rescue, rehabilitation and care. In 2001 Gorilla Foundation members funded the construction of the first gorilla habitat at Mefou, named in honor of Koko’s companion Michael and home to now-adolescent gorillas. The habitat now under construction – and yet to be named – will be home to ten more rescued baby gorillas now sharing an outgrown nursery.

If you’d like to donate to the completion of the “Michael” orphan gorilla nursery, please contact us at [email protected].