Five years ago, the Jane Goodall Institute helped build a school in Boiti, a village that lies just outside the Tchimpounga Reserve. Before the school was built, the children of Boiti had to walk for hours both ways just to get an education. As one might expect, most of them opted to stay home and work with their parents in the forest instead, and as result the education level in Boiti was low to nonexistent.
Today we were invited to witness the end-of-year celebrations at the new Boiti school. We sat and watched as the children sang, danced and put on skits for the entire village. Members of the JGI team then led a workshop on forest conservation with the kids, the same workshop they run in over 50 Congolese schools. The children sang out the names of all the endangered animals in the forest, and they learned about the destruction that is caused by hunting and fire, as well as the importance of the eco-guards in conserving Congo’s vast ecological resources.
Finally, awards were given out to the top performing and most improved students in each age group. Then the kids were given their report cards. Look how happy they seem; I don’t remember being this happy to get my grades.
Back at the sanctuary, we met two more babies, Leki and Mkazi. And if we thought Mambou was difficult to handle, these two made Mambou look like a little angel. I arrived to see one of our entourage begging to be let out of the enclosure—literally begging—as the two youngsters scaled her back and bit and yanked her hair.
We all went in, one by one, and none of us fared any better. I was shocked by the strength and relentless energy of the little boys. They led with their teeth, they were very fast and they just kept coming. At one point, just as one chimp dragged himself onto my head and the other sank his teeth into my kneecap, I looked at their regular caregiver. He just shrugged his shoulders and gave me an exhausted smile. Looking after baby chimps is far from a romantic endeavour.
Leki and Mkazi live with an adult chimp named La Veille, a beautiful old lady who spent much of her life at the Brazzaville Zoo. As a result of her lifelong incarceration, La Vielle doesn’t like living in big groups of chimps. So now, whenever a new infant emerges from the three-month quarantine, he is put in La Vielle’s enclosure. The baby gets some adult supervision, and La Vielle enjoys the company of another little one.
Although La Vielle doesn’t appear to be all that aggressive, she is very protective of Leki and Mkazi, a lesson I learned the hard way when I went into the enclosure to try to rescue another friend from the toothy onslaught of the babies. I must have appeared threatening, because La Vielle immediately stood up on her hind legs and began swaying back and forth, displaying at me, warning me to back away from her little charges. I left the scene, chastened, as quickly as I could, and La Veille quickly calmed down.
Then Debby Cox and Jane Lawton, the Executive Director of JGI Canada, went in with La Vielle and the boys. Look what happened next. That’s Jane in the middle, being groomed/explored by La Vielle.