Author: Ana Giovanetti
Our volunteers dip their toes in a range of activities, where their innovation and passion contributes to helping conserve over 13,000 acres of land and the welfare issues of captive populations.
When volunteers look for conservation projects, they want to be confident that their money and time is being used on a project which is ethical and sustainable. But with so many organizations offering conservation volunteer programs, how do you ensure that the project is right for you?
Here at Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage, we have laid out exactly what our volunteers do, how it benefits chimp welfare, and how it contributes to greater conservation goals.
Husbandry is definitely the grunt work of volunteering, and while it may not be glamorous, enclosure cleaning has a direct positive impact on chimpanzee welfare.
Welfare expands three core areas; animal health, affective state (mental health), and the ability to express natural behaviors. All three are needed for a happy healthy chimpanzee.
Did you know that in the wild chimpanzees are very clean animals? They groom constantly, removing unwanted debris from their coats. In fact, a study comparing swabs from chimp nests (yes, chimps make nests!) with those from human beds found that our sheets and mattresses harbored far more bacteria than the chimp nests.
In Chimfunshi, the chimps live in large outdoor forests (up to 100 acres). Some, however, will come into our indoor enclosures during feeding periods, or for veterinary treatment. It is therefore extremely important to keep sanitary enclosures to replicate their natural environment and to reduce the risk of spreading disease.
Volunteers provide extra hands to ensure enclosures are cleaned on a regular, tight schedule.
Chimpanzees are equipped with powerful bodies and intelligent brains to thrive in the wild. Often, captive environments cannot cater to the natural physical and mental stimulants required to keep their mind and body fit. Behavior enrichment combats this challenge, directly impacting animal welfare, and is the crux of our work at Chimfunshi.
If you’re new here, let me brief you on four very special chimpanzees at Chimfunshi.
The aptly named Escape Artists are kept in a smaller “escape proof” enclosure due to their unique ability to escape outdoor enclosures. For the time being, as we raise funds for a large “escape proof” home, volunteers spend time prepping, making, and setting up enrichment games to keep these guys psychologically and physically fit.
For Cleo, Chiffon, Collin, and Milla, enrichment is crucial if they are to be released into a semi-wild setting.
Past volunteers have been creative with enrichment, using bottles, ropes, and clothing. They have built physical stimulants such as hammocks and bridges alongside games such as catch the ball.
We enrich in ways that encourage their natural behaviors such as nest building using leaves and twigs, as well as tool-use using skewers to retrieve peanut butter from puzzles.
Behavior enrichment is a beautiful thing. We see an instant change in their actions. After enrichment, the chimpanzees are more active and engaged in their surroundings. They vocalize their enjoyment, interact with one another, and most importantly, they have fun!
And Chimfunshi does not stop at chimpanzees. Our volunteers also provide enrichment for our rescued vervets, baboons, and parrots.
Ideas, Resources, and Skill Set
Volunteers bring a diversity of resources, ideas, and skill sets to the table. We have had scientists, painters, builders, writers, artists – you name it. For a remote sanctuary, deep within the Zambian bush, individual knowledge and skill is so important.
From fixing vervet enclosures to building enrichment spaces such as hammocks and wooden boxes, volunteers bring the resources, imagination, and enthusiasm needed to get the job done. They liaise with our local veterinarian and can often assist her when she requires help and they work with management on infrastructure development and with chimp keepers on behavior enrichment.
It’s been proven that volunteering encourages civic responsibility, and our volunteers are no exception – they leave Chimfunshi as chimpanzee ambassadors.
The biggest threats to chimpanzee survival are poaching and deforestation.
Through meeting our chimps, our volunteers learn their stories, which are often tales of being torn from their mother by poachers. Their mothers are often killed and the babies go into the pet trade. Chimpanzees become dangerous as they grow older and do no not make good pets due to their strength and intelligence.
Our volunteers raise awareness on the pet trade and the significance of showing chimpanzees as wild animals and not performing “human” traits and interacting with humans.
They spread the word on conservation issues and fundraise for an extended impact. In the past, our volunteers have developed their own fundraising initiatives, which helps get Chimfunshi closer to building a bigger enclosure for our Escape Artists.
Community support is at the heart of every conservation initiative. When we support community needs, we can then focus on wider conservation and welfare goals.
Our volunteers are engaged in the community through the local school and children where we run conservation club. Topics range from the value of conservation and waste sustainability to local conservation issues such as over fishing and poaching.
We keep all topics local to ensure it is relatable to the community and not pushing western values, which are unrealistic in the Zambian bush. We aim to empower the children to see the inherent value in their forest home.
Outside the class, volunteers can be seen kicking footballs and skipping rope with local children. It’s a time for them to practice their English along with good sportsmanship and cooperation.
We are currently looking at improving community waste management through EcoBricking – building structures out of plastic waste rammed into plastic bottles. Stay tuned for future developments!
Tackling conservation and wildlife welfare is always complex and expands into many different fields and expertise. Our volunteers dip their toes in a range of activities where their innovation and passion contributes to helping conserve over 13,000 acres of land and the welfare of captive chimp populations.
Volunteers improve the lives of our chimpanzees and spread the message of a small sanctuary in remote Zambia across the globe – and this is invaluable!
This volunteer program will only be running until the end of 2019.