Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Voilà Des Chimpanzés!

I told Adam before we left that, despite having a big list of things to do in Congo in general, one of the nicest defining elements of one’s time here is the relaxation.

Everything runs on Africa Time - Pole pole in Swahili -- Mpola mpola in Lugandan --Malembe malembe in Lingala - so if you’re on a tight schedule, you’re due to be stressed and/or disappointed.

A big part of our repose here is getting baby Mange to acclimate to our presence. He’s very mother-bonded to Polycarpe right now - his mother of the past 2 months. He’s honestly the youngest chimpanzee I have ever seen that was confiscated and survived. He might be less than 6 months, but I’d rather have someone better versed in chimps this young to make the final determination.

He’s got some definitely funny quirks, which I attribute to his young orphaning and subsequent confiscation. When he is alone or scared, he lies as flat as possible and stays very quiet, and pulls himself forward with one arm while staying as flat as possible. While it’s funny to watch, it also feels horribly sad that it was ever necessary.

I’m hoping within 2 months that he can be integrated with the other chimpanzees from the sanctuary - Django, Bolungwa and Kathe. They are currently about 15 minutes from here with 2 caregivers and get a lot of playtime in the trees.

Mange, is, I think, still too young to play with the others. He’s still about the size of a loaf of fresh bread. In the interim, Polycarpe is doing a great job of mothering him, but I don’t envy the constant attention required in such a job. I have vivid memories of sitting on the toilet, two chimpanzees on my lap, trying to negotiate a wipe. It’s not easy.

Mange has upgraded from sitting on the veranda and rocking, sometimes screaming when Polycarpe leaves him alone to now wandering through the house looking for him and screaming/momma calling. I nearly tripped over him this morning coming from the bathroom!

Polycarpe needed to go to the hospital to visit his mother yesterday, so we took over Chimp Momma duty. Mange also knows Dido from feeding time, so we had Dido sit with him until he fell asleep. Once he was asleep, Cleve and I crawled over to keep him company so that Dido could do his daily tasks.

Once he woke up, he seemed content with our presence. He sat on his bed and clutched his towel, occasionally rocking and humping it, which is his typical behavior. When he would start looking for Polycarpe, I’d distract him with a little food - some tomato soup he’d been given from our lunch. When that was all gone, and he was clearly still hungry, we decided to try something new.

We’d been told by the guys here after we bought a baby bottle for Mange that “it simply wouldn’t work” and that he couldn’t use it. It was frustrating because firstly, the bottle had been hard to find and secondly, expensive! as everything is here in Aketi when it’s a bit more unusual or rare.

I had Adam grab the bottle and put some milk powder and water in it, and he shook it up and brought it over. Mange was hungry enough, I think, to try most anything, and he definitely start off trying to chew the nipple instead of suck it. Previous to this, they’ve been giving him mashed-up food on a plate and he eats it, lying flat on his belly, sort of like a dog. I don’t like it much, but there wasn’t an alternative.

He doesn’t have real canine teeth yet so the nipple was doing fine, and I kept making the sucky face at him to try and help him out. And then, finally, he got it! Sucking up the milk, with that contented slurpy sound. I was so proud. And of course, Cleve was photo and video-ing. Even he is sometimes obsessive about taking photos, it’s incredibly reassuring to know that one day I can look back on it all in perfect digital preservation.

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