In 2012 a tragic fire took the life of legendary baboon rehabber Rita Miljo. Without a doubt her legend of care for baboons continues with Samantha and Stephen.
“Next time you’re in the area please come and visit us,” Samantha said. So we did.
After leaving the highway between Hoedspruit and Phalaborwa we are in the bush. The terrain is hilly and the vistas right “Out of Africa”. We stop at the Olifant’s river overlook and spot a herd of elephant coming in to drink. Further along a young jackal is running along in the dusty brush beside the Landy.
C.A.R.E. (Center for Animal Rehabilitation and Education) is located in a beautiful Game Reserve on the Olifants River. The reserve borders the Kruger National Park and is home to giraffe, lion, jackal, elephant and other African wildlife.
Founded back in 1989 by the late Rita Miljo as a refuge for abused baboons C.A.R.E. grew into a premier rescue, rehabilitation and education center for Chacma Baboons. After Rita’s unfortunate passing when her cabin caught fire in 2012 her right hand man Stephen Munro took over. Samantha Cassidy, who like Stephen started off as a volunteer at C.A.R.E. has played a vital role in running the center for the past six years.
We arrive in the later afternoon. Volunteers are busily going about feeding the baboons. Sam Keegan (not to be confused with Samantha) comes to greet us. Sam has been at the center for the past two years and deals with all the people stuff. She gives us a brief overview of the center. After leaving us she is off to do outreach work at a nearby pub (that’s where to find the locals on a Friday night.)
Samantha takes us on a tour of the facilities. First where we can camp for the night and find the ablution in the Volunteer Village. It’s a nice set up. All relatively new, and funded by the Boda Trust & crowd fundraising.
For the baboons that come to C.A.R.E. there are many facilities. From the veterinary clinic to the milk kitchen where food of all types is prepared. From the nursery with one way mirrors so the young ones can be observed without being disturbed to the bonding rooms.
Intriguing Bonding Rooms
Three enclosures are divided in two. The smaller enclosure is where a volunteer and an orphaned young baboon hangout. In the larger enclosure a potential (carefully selected) new mommy baboon is brought in. With much patience and time nature plays it’s self out. In most cases the youngster has a new mommy. With the volunteer still observing the gate between the small and large enclosure is opened. If the interaction is positive. If the female baboon is nurturing. If the young baboon allows the nurturing, then it’s a match.
During our visit we watch two scenarios: One a very new match and one ready to be introduced to a troop. What are the telling signs? One of them is if the female baboon holds onto the youngster while the latter wraps its arms around the new mommy’s tummy. [Captured in the video below]
We climb the stairs up to the blind observation platform. Here the troop in a semi wild enclosure can be observed without disturbing the baboons. Observers include researchers, volunteers and the public on educational tours.
Samantha and Stephen take us behind the scenes down to the older section of the property. Here many baboons in rehab are organized into small troops waiting for release. Here is where it all started with Rita so many years ago. Here is where she sadly perished in her cottage overlooking the Olifants River, in close proximity to her beloved baboons.
We end the day sharing supper on the patio with Samantha, Stephen and the volunteers. C.A.R.E. is a well-functioning center. A great place for those interested in primates to come volunteer.
The Big Obstacle
The greatest challenge the center faces is finding appropriate release sites for their baboons. Why? In this part of Africa people see baboons as pests. Farmers and even game reserves don’t want them. Add to that, unlike the smaller vervet monkeys, a troop of baboons require much more territory in the wild. However, we’re confident that Samantha and Stephen with their drive and commitment will find the solutions needed. Folks like them always do.
For more detailed information about C.A.R.E. … the work they do and volunteer opportunities please visit their web site.