The Zambia Primate Project is one of the operations run and sponsored by the Born Free Foundation. Based in the Kafue National Park, the project focuses on the rescue, rehabilitation and reintroduction of Vervet monkeys and Yellow baboons throughout Zambia.
The project is run by Cosmos Mumba, an immensely talented Zambian conservationist (see video below). In 2015 he was nominated for the 2015 African Conservationist of the Year award by the Tusk Trust. Cosmas is a leading light in the conservation of primates and works very closely with Dr Cheryl Mvula from the Born Free Foundation.
They seek to achieve this through education, in-situ work and a welfare programme for those primates in need of intervention and rescue. In August 2016, I was granted the remarkable opportunity to work in-situ at the release site in the Kafue National Park, where the team work closely with Game Rangers International.
I arrived at Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, and was greeted by Cosmos, who was waiting to take me to Lilayi. This is the location of Game Rangers International’s elephant orphanage. The orphanage is now also a refuge for rescued and confiscated pangolins, whose population has dramatically decreased over past years. They are always looking for volunteers and donations, so I would encourage anyone to find out more about there work by clicking here.
Cosmos and I then set off on the 4-hour drive west to Kafue, where I would be staying at the release camp. My eyes were opened to the work and commitment exuded by the team, made up of Cosmos, Mathew, Dalisou and Caribou. They live in camp for most the year.
We visited the release site of a troop of Vervet monkeys who were reintroduced into the wild in February 2016. Each individual monkey has a story to tell, sadly usually of tragedy. They are rescued, rehabilitated and reintroduced back into the wild.
The team can recognise individuals within the troop by name. Immediately I was inspected by the lead males of the troop, grunting and softly barking while they all circled me. Cosmos and his team found this very amusing, as did I; it’s something that must happen to every volunteer. I felt as if the troop were sizing me up and deciding whether or not they liked me.
With introductions out the way, I was allocated Blacky to observe; one of the adult females in our focal studies. This formed the bulk of my job for the month. I would monitor individuals in the troop and note each minute what behaviour they were performing. This meant we could gather enough data to allows us to track individuals progress and identify any health issues.
The process of rehabilitation is often very hands on, as the primates being treated are usually in poor health — both mentally and physically. This, in turn, builds an exceptionally strong bond between the team and the troop.
Although this could lead to problems when it comes to encouraging the troop to evolve and become completely independent; the operation here is conducted to the highest degree of professionalism, and no such issues were evident.
The team’s bond with the Vervets is extremely strong. Cosmos personally views them as his family. This was first demonstrated to me upon my encounter with Mysozyo, who is an adult female.
She was rescued from terrible conditions: chained outside a shop and used as a status symbol.
She was in extremely poor health when Cosmos first met her, and he cared for her through rehabilitation and reintroduction with the troop.
When I first saw her, however, she wasn’t alone. Mysozyo had mated earlier in the year with one of the lead males in the troop and had given birth to a truly “born free” infant, which Cosmos named Ndiase, meaning Gift.
This marked a huge step for the troop as it shows they are capable of wild natural behaviour.
Now that I have returned from my time in Zambia, I have had time to reflect on just how impressive and successful the whole operation is.
I consider myself exceptionally lucky to have had the opportunity to work with the team; as an aspiring conservationist, I feel I have learnt an infinite amount from actually working with the team on the ground, rather than simply learning the theory behind it.
I would encourage anyone to get involved with charitable organisations such as these, whether it be donating your time, or as a beneficiary. It is hugely rewarding, and sadly still very much needed.
My connection with the troop and the team is one that I treasure immensely; it has inspired me to train to run the London Marathon in support of Born Free Foundation later this year — if you’d like, you can sponsor me here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Tom-Hicks3
Finally, to Game Rangers International, Born Free Foundation and the Zambia Primate Project, I can only say thank you for the opportunity. I feel incredibly grateful for the immense benefit I have gained from the experience and education you offered me. I sincerely hope to take you up on the offer to work together again.
If you would like to enquire about the chance to work with the Zambia Primate Project then find them on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/ZambiaPrimateProject
Or through the Born Free Foundations website: http://www.bornfree.org.uk/campaigns/primates/campaign-action/zambian-primate-project/
Tom Hicks is a student of Wildlife Conservation a University of the West of England. He is a passionate supporter of Born Free Foundation, having worked with them as part of his work placement in Zambia, detailed here. Tom will also be running the London Marathon in 2017 in support of Born Free Foundation. Tom also volunteers with vEcotourism.org, helping the conservation-themed Virtual Reality company by providing support on Twitter and Facebook. To find out more about Tom’s professional and campaign work, visit: https://twitter.com/ConservationTom/