Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Interview with Simone De Vries

Project Manager, Limbe Wildlife Centre, Cameroon

How did you come to be working at the Limbe Wildlife Centre?

In the period 1998-2002 my husband was working in the North of Cameroon in a National Park. I lived in the Netherlands at that time, but I came to visit very regularly. On one of our vacation trips in Cameroon we visited the Limbe Wildlife Centre and it was a great experience. I saw that the animals were very healthy and I was amazed by the enthusiasm and dedication of the keepers. I clearly remember talking to Jonathan Kang, the current Head Keeper, who was working with the gorillas. In a country where animals are generally considered as meat, it is a great pleasure to meet people who have made it their goal to protect wild animals and take good care of the victims of illegal practices. I decided: one day I want to work here. As I already had experience with animals, conservation education and management this was not such a strange thought.  So when I saw the advertisement for assistant manager in 2006 I applied and after an interview in London with the former manager Felix Lankester I was hired.

What is the most rewarding part of the job?

In Cameroon primates are hunted and killed for bush meat. The infants are usually kept alive because they are worth more as a pet than as a source of meat. They are sold in the market and often end up in miserable circumstances: in a tiny cage or tied to a rope, not well fed, etc. When we rescue a primate from such a dreadful situation, I feel sad and happy at the same time. If we succeed in getting the animal in good shape again, both physically and mentally, and the animal is successfully integrated in a family group, I walk around with a big smile on my face.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

For one year now I have been the manager of the Limbe Wildlife Centre and as such I am responsible for the management of the animals, the people and the money. There is enough challenges in all three sections, but I find it most stressful to be responsible for enough funds to run and further develop the LWC. It is a great comfort that Born Free generously sponsors the work we do and we have some other very loyal sponsors that help a lot. But even so it is very hard work to raise all the money we need to give the proper care to all the animals that depend on us.

How has Born Free helped the work of the LWC?

Born Free helps the Limbe Wildlife Centre in many different ways. We receive funds for the development of new enclosures, but also for the daily care of the animals. With the help of Born Free we built an excellent chimpanzee enclosure. With space to move around, climbing structures, a pool and lots of natural vegetation, this enclosure has everything our chimpanzees need. But we also get funds for food, veterinary care, etc. This is very important because many funders are only interested in building projects. With the help of Born Free we are able to live up to our high standards for animal care. A few years ago we also received a container full of very useful materials. It is hard to describe what this container has meant for our daily operation and even harder to imagine how we would have survived without it. When I walk around in the LWC I see so many things that came in that container: computers, fridges, tables, chairs, too much to mention here.

What are the most important issues when looking after orphan primates?

Young primates that do not have the protection of a mother are very vulnerable. They do not only need good food, but also warmth and affection. When very young infants come to the Limbe Wildlife Centre we always give them a human foster mom. It is very intense to take care of a primate infant, especially a chimpanzee or a gorilla, as it is a 24-hour job. As soon as possible we start the introduction to animals of same species, even when it is only on the other side of a fence. It is important that the infant sees others of its own kind, so it does not forget what it is like to be a chimpanzee or a gorilla.

How does LWC address the underlying causes behind primates becoming orphaned?

Almost since the beginning in the 1990's, the LWC has run an extensive education program. Over the years many students took part in our program and got inspired to fight the illegal bush meat and pet trade. Some of our former students work at the LWC like education volunteers or even our education officer (Glenn Motumba). Recently we have expanded our efforts towards community outreach, in order to work directly with hunters, bush meat sellers and consumers. It is a big challenge to change peoples attitudes, but it is the only way to reach our goals.

Are there any individual animals at LWC that are particularly special to you?

The picture on my phone shows Takway. She is a young mona monkey that came to us when she was about one month old. In the first months after her arrival I took care of her, taking her home at night. It was a great time and I became quite good in the mona language. She is now the youngest member in the mona group and several times a day I pass the enclosure. I always say: 'uuhrrrrupp!' and she answers.

Born Free Foundation
Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurstwood Road
, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK - Charity Reg. No. 1070906

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