Chimfunshi Sanctuary is located in the Copperbelt. I’d like to tell you it’s named on account of its beautiful copper sunsets or shimmering brown hills, but it’s not. Nope. Copperbelt is for copper mining, and it’s fairly ravaged this region. Mining slag and dust everywhere that’s not the bush.
The Copperbelt is pretty darn close to the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where civil unrest is the flavor of the…decade? Decades? I’m not even sure how long at this point; a loooong time though. Elections are upcoming, so things are chaotic and as a result, traffic during our drive in was pretty slow. We sat on the road right near the border for quite sometime. Fortunately, we were were with Thalia Calvi, vet extraordinaire, which helped to pass the time. Thalita! Finally!
Sitting in Thalita’s truck near the Congo Border. Nothing moving here.
We bought some food and supplies before we headed into the bush, and drove for about an hour and a half to the sanctuary. It was interesting to watch the landscape roll by, becoming increasing more rural by the kilometer. Lots of mining slag at first, particularly as we passed through all three small towns, the last being Chingola. After that it was only bush, and the occasional small roadside villages – little huts, gardens, and central cooking and gathering spots. Here, in the villages, life happens outside. Homes are for sleeping and storage.
Upon arriving, Thalita introduced me to Shiela Siddle and her daughter Sylvia. David and Shiela bought this land back on the 1970s and built a small home in the middle of what looks like a Nat Geo special. At that time, there were all manner of animals here – elephants, lions, hippos, crocodiles, giraffes, zebras, leopards, monkeys… the whole lot. Due to poaching, there are very few species left here. Very few other than birds, that is: Chimfunshi has been designated an important bird habitat. There are also ample resident snakes, including Black Mambas. But we’ll get to my little snake story later – back to the Siddles. Way back when, they took in an orphan chimp, and things just kind of rolled on from there. Now the sanctuary spans 24,000 acres and includes three villages, a school, a cattle ranch, a full time vet, and of course, the chimps. 130 (ish) of them. There are five habitats, the largest being 200 acres, about 4 times the size of the average metro zoo. Just one enclosure alone. Imagine.
David passed away seven years ago, but Shiela and Sylvia still live here in their small homes and help with sanctuary operations. Shiela LOVES each and everyone of these chimpanzees in considers them to be her children. Her land is beautiful and her life has been fascinating. A few days before our arrival, a friend of Shiela and Sylvia’s rescued a baby Vervet Monkey and gave it to them to care for. Sylvia lovingly thrust the monkey, and a wee little bottle of milk, at Thalita the moment she walked through the door. Their home and surrounding property is quite the menagerie, with vervet monkeys, African gray parrots, chickens, geese, ducks, sheep, peacocks, sheep, geese, chickens, and more. There used to be a hippo named Billy roaming the property. Word has it she followed Sheila around like a little puppy. Billy died several years ago, and Shiela said she misses her every day.
This is me, in Zambia, drinking a beer while a baby Vervet Monkey is sitting on my lap. Yep.
After monkey time, Thalita drove us around the property and took us to our accommodations.
Thats our little house on the right.
Lovely central gazebo for mealtime.
Aaaand here’s the pit toilet. Yay!
There are a few flushing toilets too, in the central shower block. Mostly I’ll be sticking to those because you know, less of these guys:
So that pretty much sums up the first few days. Lots of travel, checking out the scene (especially interesting watching things become increasingly rural in a uniquely Copperbelt way), meeting Thalita (awesome), beer, a baby vervet monkey, my little house and bedroom, and this scorpion. Just kidding. The scorpion was actually last night. Like the Mamba, that story will have to wait.
I swear there must be chimps Somewhere around this place…
Tomorrow, I promise!
And please, excuse any grammatical and spelling errors. And sloppy writing. Internet isn’t limited and spotty so I’m going at it when I can. So much more has happened then I have relayed here and I am kind of just speed blogging. I have been a part some crazzzzy chimpanzee events. Can’t even process yet.