Part science, part art seems to be the secret and the miracle behind the successful work at Bambelela a rescue rehabilitation center in South Africa.
“I will take you and Russ to the release site,” Silke said.
We were planning our visit to Bambelela with family in June 2017. The grandkids and adults were invited to visit Nikela (the growing adopted young vervet monkey) in Kindergarten while Silke took us to visit Monty’s Troop. This troop of over 50 vervets had recently found a second chance at living free thanks to Silke and her team.
Little did we know back in March of 2014 during our first visit to Bambelela that three years later we would sponsor a troop release. Not only that, the release of some of the very monkeys whose enclosure cover gave way during a deluge.
Our first visit to Bambelela – Wet beginning
That first visit to meet Silke was fraught with complications. The heaviest rainfall in years kept Silke, her staff and team of volunteers scrambling to keep the 200 monkeys in rehab dry. Water pooled on tarp covers. Rivers ran through the enclosures. And the rains kept falling.
Russ and I were on the covered fenced in porch of the volunteer camp when the alarm sounded. Without hesitation all hands rushed to the collapsing enclosure. Within minutes they were drenched. Water poured off the slanted broken roof tresses. Keeping all the monkeys inside was the first concern. The second to temporarily fix the broken poles.
No monkey was injured. All was good. Unbeknowns to us, in this very enclosure were some of the monkeys that would soon become part of the newly forming Monty Troop.
Two years later – A healthy new Troop
When we returned two years later in October 2016 we saw the fully formed troop of over 40 monkeys in their large spacious final rehabilitation enclosure. They’d gone from being orphaned, injured or abused monkeys to a healthy looking troop. These rescued individuals once hugged and loved by their human caretakers now only had one person enter their habitat. Morne kept his distance, discouraging any interaction. So these monkeys become less and less accustomed to humans.
Babies! Among a host of indicators Silke uses to deem a troop ready for release is the birth of a babies. Supposedly this solidifies the troop, possibly because vervet monkey babies are not only raised by their mothers, but the babysitters she chooses to assist her. Or sometimes, like humans, juvenile like to nurture. (For example in the image below Nikela, our adopted monkey, likes to babysit in Kindergarten. )
The years raising up a troop are arduous. However, it is frequently nothing in comparison to the challenge of finding the right release site and getting the permits and authorizations needed to return the troop to the wilds. How Silke does it year after year, troop after troop is astounding. (To date 15 troops of between 20 and 50 monkeys each have been giving a second chance at life the way nature intended it. That’s why the Rescue Rehabilitation and Release of These Monkeys at Bambelela is a Miracle.
Early in 2017 – The Release
In January 2017 the stars lined up and 54 monkeys including 12 babies comprising Monty’s troop were ready to move to the release site. A rehabilitated troop is not simply taken to their new home and immediately set free. First they are released to a smaller enclosure on site. Their caretaker also lives in an enclosure nearby. After a few days of acclimatizing the gate is opened. The monkeys are free to explore. Most are cautious. Most return to the familiarity of the enclosure for the night without much coaxing. As time goes on the gate is left open day and night. Once the monkeys find new hiding and resting places their enclosure is broken down. Their caretaker stays on site for around three months.
Visiting the Monty Troop release site
Fast forward to June 2017. Our family is marched off by their escorts to the rehab center to visit the young ones in Kindergarten. Silke and Morne (the troop’s caretaker) drive us out to the release site. We enter a private game reserve. Wildebeest and zebra are drinking at a waterhole. Trees and vegetation are plentiful. A wild troop of vervets also calls this part of the bush home.
As we bounce along the two track and come around a corner Silke says, “There they are!” In the brush beyond the trees we spot them. Morne jumps out with his crate of mealies (corn on the cob) and monkeys appear out of nowhere. He tosses them left and right. Some come running in. Others hold back preferring to rob a fellow troop mate over coming too close. “That’s good,” says Silke.
The troop is progressing as they should. A couple of monkeys have joined the wild troop. While one of the wild troop members is now hanging around with Monty’s gang.
It’s amazing to watch these monkeys enjoying their freedom. Right now they’re still being visited and fed. This is how Silke monitors them. Watches for any signs of trouble. For now this troop has adjusted well. Soon the supplemental feeding will stop and they will only be checked on periodically. This journey from rescue, through rehab and on to release is nothing short of miraculous.
Thanks to all of you at Bambelela who make it happen.