Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Freedom beckons...

1 February 2013

Categories: Lilongwe news, Primates Campaign News, Homepage News


Early this year, the team at the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre, undertook a programme to release some of their rescued baboons back to the wild.  All these animals have been rescued as individuals in Malawi; some found for sale at the side of the road; some chained up for years.  Under the care of a dedicated team; they were each rescued and nursed back to full health.  They were then integrated into a troop; where they could learn to be wild baboons again.

Then, on January 9th, their lives changed once again.  The ‘release’ troop as they were known were readied for transport to their release site at Kasungu National Park; and life back in the wild.

‘When the trucks rolled out at 4.00am, tears were shed by the care team.   Many  had grown to know the individuals well and followed their journeys from rescue, through rehab and now the baboons were leaving to go home.  They will all be missed; but we could not be happier knowing that we have successfully got them to this point.’ Confirmed Kate Moore from the Lilongwe Wildlife Trust.

Once at Kasungu National Park, the team were met by heavy rains.  Soon though all was on track and the door to the release site enclosure was opened and the baboons stepped out – back into the wild.

Here’s a short update from release managers Anne and Sebas…

The troop are exploring the environment bit by bit, choosing a slightly different direction every day. They seem to prefer exploring on the road,  but are going further into the trees and the bushes every day. The release enclosure is their safe haven where they retreat for their afternoon nap and to sleep at night. Supplementary feeding is still important at this stage of the release and we do this at the same destination every day and they follow a pretty strict regime so far by coming past at breakfast and lunchtime. They clearly enjoy the food we provide, but it’s good to see that they are foraging all day long as they travel, eating lots of grass (only the inside), sausage fruits, ants, and every now and then a big fat maggot or snail.

We can’t get very close to the group. ‘Dedza’ is keeping a close eye on us and will threaten us when we come too close (closer than approx. 50 m) Juri and Lucky are also ready to protect the group; this is very good for the group as it shows they are not too habituated to humans, but slightly intimidating for us and also making it harder to collect behavioural data! Dedza and Juri also have the habit of sneaking up on us every now and then to remind us to keep our distance!  They’re not very aggressive, but it’s a show that’s impressive enough to make us move. So our first job now is to let them get used to our presence and show them that we're neither a threat nor food machines.

The rain was quite unbelievable in the first week or so; the weekend of the big move the rain was so bad that all our vehicles were getting stuck.  It’s eased off a bit now with some beautiful sunny days and it has been such a pleasure to watch the babies play in the water of the dambo (through the binoculars, until Dedza was there again, emerging from the high grass right in front of us to remind us to keep our distance!).  Mandy and Richard are looking for some contact with us every now and then, but ignoring them seems to work.

There are some other wild baboons around, which is one of our bigger concerns.  Up until yesterday, the wild baboons haven’t had the guts to show their faces since our troop were released.  It was a real relief that they were chased off quickly by our big males and that no-one was injured. We wonder if they want to join our group since there are only a few of them and they are quite juvenile. 

Generally the baboons are getting along fine within the group with almost no fighting. Everybody is taking care of our youngest baby, especially Dedza and Lucky. Magda (the tiny lady we had some doubts about) is doing great, being at the edge of the group with Richard and looking very good. All in all the progress is very promising 3 weeks in, and our only worry is that they might be a little too relaxed and not aware of the dangers of the big wide world. But they all passed their predator training so we’re keeping our fingers crossed that when danger does rear its ugly head they are all well prepared.  

Personally we are enjoying the adventure. We are working crazy-long days, but the rewards of being in the depths of the bush, surrounded by such beauty and seeing all the baboons that we know so well enjoying their freedom more than make up for the hard work.  We’ve had a couple of scary moments with the big males, but they will surely get used to us soon as long as we keep our distance for now. The scouts are very cooperative and friendly, Kasungu National Park is just stunning, and every morning we wake up and see the sun rise and think how happy we are to be here!

Thanks to our supporters, Born Free was able to help fund the pre-release enclosure at the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre and the rehabilitation and release of the baboons.  Lilongwe Wildlife Centre is the world’s first Born Free Foundation accredited People and Wildlife Centre. To find out more about volunteering at the Centre please see here.

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

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