They pay to get peed on by baby monkeys, slosh through the mud, even forgo breakfast to avert an emergency.
It’s like being inside a drum as the rain pours down on the tin porch roof of the volunteer house. Our tour of Bambelela’s primate rehab center was scheduled to begin over an hour ago. Our young Swiss tour guide’s voice is giving out and she takes a break from talking over the noise and we look out towards the rehab enclosure with its newly formed troop still in the adjusting and close watch stage. To artificially create a troop of monkeys takes understanding and skill. Like humans they have different personalities, some get along and others don’t, some are aggressive and others aren’t. We had no idea how complex and lengthy of a process it is to prepare an orphaned or injured vervet monkey for a successful release back into the wilds.
A yell goes out. Volunteers rush off as its all hands on deck. The relentless rain has finally taken its toll. The upper supports of an enclosure have given way under the weight of the water build up on the temporary tarp. (Photo below)
Being Africa with its sunny weather and simulating the wilds as much as possible most of the enclosures have no roofs. However this rain storm, bringing more moisture than ever recorded in the history of the area, tarps were secured over the tops of the enclosures to keep the monkeys drier and to reduce the flooding in the enclosures.
Within minutes all the vervets in the damaged cage are secured in an adjacent one and muddy drenched volunteers are at work making the necessary repairs. The dedication and team work is remarkable, no one complains about delaying a hot breakfast or getting wet for the umpteenth time the last couple of days.
This unquestioning sense of responsibility shows itself again at ‘nappy hour’. Several volunteers arrive at the nursery ready to diaper and get their baby vervet for the night. Yes, for the whole night! The tiny ones jump from head to head, grab my cap, untie Russ’ shoelaces and then, after being diapered snuggle up with their surrogate mother. A couple of volunteers care for two tinies or pink faces as they are affectionately called and talk about being woken up like mothers with human newborns. (Photos below)
“Don’t they get too attached to humans?” I ask. Oddly enough they don’t. Each baby vervet weans itself without warning by hanging back in the nursery with their daytime surrogate primate mother, leaving a sad volunteer to go to bed alone.
What magic spell hangs over Bambelela? How does Silke entice young people from Europe and elsewhere to pay to spend weeks, if not months living in the bush caring for vervets? I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that Silke truly gives vervets a second chance at living wild as they sojourn through a systematic yet flexible and nurturing rehab process.