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Entry 28 - Arriving in South Africa and early baboons

Another new continent - only Antartica left!

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Entry # 28 – Arriving in South Africa – August 24

Thursday, August 24 – First day in Africa and a new continent

Obviously as we left late, we arrived late, 1.5 hours to be exact at 8:20 am. It was a much better flight with plenty of legroom. I arrived feeling much better able to attend to the day and at this point, felt I probably could have been able to go directly to the baboon sanctuary.
I had plenty of time, as my next flight did not leave until 4 in the afternoon so I took it slow. We were shuttled via bus from the aircraft to the terminal and I got to step on to my next continent. At this point, I only have Antarctica left on my list and then I will have been on each of them at least once. YAAAH! No real impression of the smell or feel of Africa from this brief encounter. Airports around the world smell the same – airline fuel and diesel, dust and concrete.

Early errands included exchanging money, going to the ATM, breakfast, looking for the luggage storage and seeing if I could find internet. The luggage storage was in the international terminal and would end up costing around $4 per day. I had determined it was going to be worth it, as I would be flying very small commuter planes to Phalaborwa with strict 20 k limits.

In South Africa, the porters wear orange coveralls with numbers on them and they are very helpful if you are in a hurry or don’t know where you are going. Godfrey helped me get from the international to the domestic terminal and was very nice. It was not that far so I knew that I could get back there once I had sorted and recombined my luggage later in the day. The domestic terminal is very modern and nice with the loveliest inlays in the floor in the colors of the earth, browns, reds, and yellows.

They had a wonderfully convenient internet/post office/phone store called the postnet that had wireless hookup. A good thing to know, as I will be in the terminal several times before I leave. At the postnet I confirmed my room for the night at the B&B in Phalaborwa which I not managed to do on the web, bought stamps and called Annie.

My flight in the afternoon was on a Jet stream 44 with seats in the 1 X 2 configuration with about 25 seats. I had a single seat and tried to see the view, but it was coming on dusk and we flew above the clouds most of the way. A one-hour flight and I was picked up by Daan and Xena’s B&B, only 5 minutes from the airport. Phalaborwa is very small, a copper mining town in the middle of nowhere and close to Kruger Park, full of wildlife. The B&B is painted in wild colors and was charming and clean. They have many dogs, Rotties mostly who are very overweight and friendly. I was very pleased to be in my room by 6:30 as I was beginning to fade. The bed felt wonderful and I went to sleep. Woke at 1pm, and took a sleeping pill.

Friday, August 25 – Arriving at the baboon placement

A great breakfast prepared me to be picked up by Lee from CARE (Center for Animal Rehabilitation and Education) at 10am. Lee had some errands in town such a food shopping and banking and picking up a piece of pipe to fix the water system that had been destroyed by an elephant recently. We are still in the winter here and food supplies are not very lush right now. The center has had a visiting elephant twice is the last 3 weeks who has destroyed two cages and evacuated the contents. All of the monkeys except one have been retrieved

During our 40-minute drive to CARE I could see that locally the terrain was mainly low rolling hills with under brush and no many trees.

The staff and volunteers that are currently at the center include:

Rita Milgo – founder from 1980, Dutch and very nice. We don’t have a lot of direct contact with her, but she is always around.
Lee – originally from Zimbabwe is Rita’s right hand person and very knowledgeable
Sarah Denny – is originally from Ireland and has been on site, off and on, for at least two years.
??? - There is another staff member, a man who is currently sitting in the bush with a recently released troop. I may get to meet him before this ends.
There are also around 10 other South Africans that work on the grounds and do all the heavy maintenance and cleaning and feeding of all the major enclosures.

The work that is handled by the volunteer includes preparing bottles and food for the babies, playing and entertaining the adolescents and cleaning their area and pens, monitoring troops for behavior, sectioning out food for the rest of the compound and anything else that we are requested to do.

The current team of 8 includes – 2 Portuguese girls in their 20’s, Gemma from England, Kim from Laguna Beach, 50 and on her second trip within 3 months, Lynn from St. Louis for 6 weeks, Sara (who was ill when I arrived, so I don’t have a good feel for her and who she is), Aletheia, a zoology student originally from Seattle but studying in Scotland, Pam a research zoologist who is planning for vet school.

Most of us are housed in the Mountain Lodge – a two-story house on the top of the hill before you descend into the compound and go down towards the river. I am on the upper level that has three bedrooms and a toilet and a lovely screen porch that faces the river. My bedroom is wart hog and has two beds with mosquito netting tents over them. The other bedrooms are the hippos and cheetahs and the toilet is the zebra. The lower level has one additional bedroom, kitchen, toilet and sink, outside shower that is walled and the laundry lines.

Room sign.JPG

Other buildings or compounds on site include the feed shed, milk kitchen, mamba kitchen, baby hok’s (more on this later) and individual and troop baboon enclosures. Currently 14 troops are ready for release. More on releases later.

In addition to the baboons, Rita and staff look after the following animals that have come under their care including 1 tree squirrel (about the size of chipmunk), 2 meer cats or suricats (just as cute as they appear), (and a partridge in a pear tree… just kidding) and samango monkeys. The samango’s are hard to describe other than they walk on all fours, have a very long tail and their hair forms a curtain around their bodies. Charlie, the largest male is very handsome and approaches the edge of the cage so that we can get a better look.

Other wildlife outside the pens includes two troops of baboons called the long tits (total number uncounted but probably at least 120 animals) wart hogs and vervet monkeys. Imagine to my surprise the first time I exited the milk kitchen to find 2 wart hogs among the baboons eating the scrapes that had been thrown out the door. They are more afraid of us than we are of them and are funny when they run away, their tail is held straight up like an antenna. The Vervet monkeys are similar to the samango’s in style of hair and length of tail, but they are much smaller in size and lighter in color. The males are very distinctive in that their scrotum is robin egg blue and their penis is bright red. The Vervet Monkeys was another placement I was considering, but they would not have been as hands on as the baboons.

Elephants have recently been foraging for food and have destroyed two cages and let the inhabitants out. This has necessitated the installation of electric fences around all of the main structures. All of the animals have been retrieved except for one female that was old enough to be on her own. This is one of those necessary but not anticipated expenses that have to be paid, but cause a strain on the resources.

From the sight of the little dark droppings, we have LOTS OF RATS! In my bedroom on the top floor, the ceiling is thatch and as you sit on the toilet, at times, a little head pops out to stare at you. My understanding is that the thatch will be removed in an effort of get rid or reduce the rats. Lee had said that mosquitoes would be my least worry. I didn’t know she meant rats would be our main worry.

After I had made up my bed and had gotten organized, I went down to the baby hok (hok is the name from cage in one of the South African language) to get my first experience with the youngsters.

My bed.JPG

As we were moving between the pens, a large male from the wild troop called Colin during his first attack of the day tried, to take Corey (aged 3 weeks) from Kim, his human foster mother’s pouch with his teeth. Later in the day, Kim was walking with a baby bottle exposed (an absolute no no) and again Colin stole it and ran off with it. He has been a persistent problem and they plan to dart him and relocated him into the wild.

The hoks are a unit of 5 pens – two large ones that are very high for the oldest juveniles with three smaller pens in front of them. They all have interconnecting doors that can serve as air locks if you are moving supplies into one of the more populated pens. I was in the middle small pen with the tiniest babies - Icarus, Tortilla, Elle (between 8-11 weeks of age), Corey (3 weeks of age) and visitor – Roxy from the medium juveniles. All of these, except Roxie, have a surrogate mother who carries them around, bottle feed them and are generally with them 24-7

At the end of the shift, after I had learned about baboon language such as lip smacking, eye flashing, presenting and aggressive vs. submissive fear responses, I got to help carry one of the babies in from the pen for the night. This was a special treat as not everyone gets to do this. It all depends if the baboons accept you. I am obvious in!

Dinner will usually be late, 7:30 or so, but tonight, we had a special treat of chicken from one of the volunteers’ special cache of food.

Bed at 8:00 – 2 sleeping pills – to get on cycle in Africa and to avoid listening for the rats.

Saturday, August 26 – First day on the job

The rats found the corner of my bag, they didn’t blast through but I will need duct tape to repair it.

I had been advised to not wear my glasses or a hat in the pens for two reasons - 1) the babies will find and break them and 2) they recognize you by your face and the glasses form a barrier. So I am in my contacts after a 9-month hiatus. We will see how the eyes hold up, as usually I only wear them with sunglasses over them.


9:00-11 – Small babies – Think of a pen of 2 year olds left to themselves and you will see why at least two people are needed to keep an eye on 9 baboons. There are tires, toys, swings, ramps, tree stumps and a ledge to launch yourself off onto the head of the unsuspecting volunteer. Not listed in the enkosini literature, but I will suggest that they add it, is the importance of hooded jackets in these pens. The babies arrive from above when you least expected it and as their balance is not always stellar, your hair is their anchor to hold on to. If they can’t find your hair, sometimes you find a hand in your mouth, up your nose, in your eyes or your ears. There are 5 pens that share a common wall, so as I sit with the littles, I am looking into a larger pen with sub adults charging around and to my right is the tiny babies where I was yesterday. To the right to the tinies are the medium size babies and behind them is another large pen of juveniles.

At one point, Lee’s wrap that she uses to carry her tiny with her had been pulled into the sub adult pen by the dominate female, Cricket. Cricket is quite the fashion model of the troop and wrapped it like a sarong at one point, or would sit with it draped over one shoulder or over her head. Finally, you would look across and it would appear as a pennant streaming behind her as she raced all around her pen. My special friends in order of appearance were Mr. Stubbs, Oros, and Paprika. I was not well liked by Nigel or Star this visit, but I have been told this can change day to day. Valentine was attacked by wild male through the bars and bitten on the nose. There was quite a bit of noise and some blood. She needed lots of cuddles after that.

11:00 bottles – Some of the sets of babies get three bottles a day, others only two. There are bottles to be made, distributed, recollected and then washed. At different times of the day, we also cut up additional food for them.

Noon lunch – usually left over. The food situation is a little strange in that what CARE buys appears very limited and the volunteers supplement with lots of personal groceries. It is hard to know what is communal and what isn’t. More on this later.

1:00 orientation – Sarah, the Irish volunteer who has been her 4 times and is the foster mom of both Icarus and Tortilla, gave me the tour. She is the staff person who makes up the schedule and knows a lot about this placement. She took me to all the different sectors. I also got to meet Mr. Naked, a mature male baboon who has some type of skin disorder and has lost all of his hair. He looks like a martian or one of the Mexican hairless dogs that I say in Peru. Very handsome and rather chiseled without all that hair in the way.

Naked Guy.JPG

2:00 bottles – At this rate, I will be an expert at bottles soon.

3:00 monitoring – Pam is my monitoring buddy as our troops are in Sector 3. This section is out of sight of the main campus and we must always travel in pairs, as the wild troop can be very close at times. We can see the river from our enclosures and I keep hoping to see in elephant. My two 2 troops are Sindle and Bip Bop. Sindle (which means survivor) has two stunning examples of the subspecies of the Chacma Baboon that appear yellow. This is small troop and the individuals are easier to identify. The Bip Bop troop is large, about 18 individual and I did not even bother to watch them the first day as we only had an hour for both troops.

4:00 Small babies – It was fun to go back and have the babies remember me and be happy to see me.

5:00 carry the babies in and put them in cages

As we entered the milk kitchen to deposit the last of the babies in their pens for the night, Lee appeared with a female baboon that she thought had tetanus. Her name is George Bush. I got to help give an IV injection with the tetanus antitoxin. She looks pretty bad, but they have had luck with this serum before. It is from Germany, as the South African manufacturer only makes a batch every 10 years and they are currently out.

During the day, all of the thatch was removed from our ceiling. We hope that this will dramatically reduce the number of rats. There a little bits of thatch everywhere, but we will clean daily and continue to pick up. I am looking forward to a night with fewer rats.

Sunday, August 27

I was awake in the middle of the night and heard the rats, not as bad as before, but still around. It was too late to take a sleeping pill, so I blogged instead. I should have slept instead. I am running far behind each day and every day is so packed with things that I want to say that I am afraid I will leave something out.

George Bush did not make it through the night. She was in a really bad way yesterday, but they had experience success with the antiserum before. Rita and Lee hope to get the troops released as soon as possible, as there is tetanus in the ground and the troops will be better in the wild.

Day 2 itis struck and energy was off, voice was complaining and felt put upon today without a break for lunch. I was one of four where the schedule was like that.


7:30 - Dogs – first time so I took them all one at a time. Sindle, the three legged one, wanted a longer walk than I could accomplish so I ended up having to carry her, which did not please her.

8:00 - Clean up – Inside in Rita’s bathroom, three pens are set up daily to house most of the small babies. During this shift, you load out all the pens that had been brought inside over night and clean them thoroughly. I was washing all the pens outside and all the buckets with the wild troop around me. A little daunting at times as the big males came by.

9:00 - Crates – Most of the troop enclosures are fed by the staff, but there are pens with individual animals that each need food. The volunteers cut up fruit and veg for 80 crates for the individual males and 21 for the individual females. You will laugh to hear that I was cutting up huge watermelons and cabbages with a machete. Hopefully, my technique will kick in soon.

My Machete and me.JPG

10:00 - Monitor – back to the two troops from yesterday and I will spend more time with the second troop to begin to get to know them. The first troop was not as calm as they had been the day before and one of the sequestered males in the second troop took offence at my presence.

11:00- 1:00 - Small babies – back to see my friends. Mr. Stubbs who was my best pal yesterday would not give me the time of day because of his new best friend, Pam. Luckily, Nigel became my new best friend. At one point Pam was having difficulty with Nigel who was very upset with her and was complaining loudly and Mr. Stubbs was trying to help by biting Nigel. I was trying to get Mr. Stubbs off Nigel and during the fracas, Star (who I don’t get along with yet) came over to lend her support to Mr. Stubbs and bit me on the arm. NOTE TO SELF – When they are stressed, don’t butt in!!

1:00- Bottles - Pam and I did bottles as fast as we could in order to have a short break for lunch. Aletheia heard of our plights and finished the last 20 minutes of our bottles for us. Thank you Aletheia. I stuffed down some cheese and two apples and went off again.

2:00-4:00 - Medium babies – This was my first time in with this group who weigh at least twice that of the little guys. There are 15 in this troop and immediately, Caley came over and introduced herself and also pickpocket Alice who tried every pocket, zipper and Velcro on my pants to no avail. At one point, I had Paris on my knee and Basil on the other one peeing and one wanting to be groomed.

I had a wonderful time watching Paris, a little female, with a plastic crate and a rock. She would put the rock under the crate and then lift it up to get it out. She would drop it in from above and then retrieve out of the slot for the handle. She was amazing and lovely to watch. This group has its acrobatics down and is very adept at carrying soccer balls up the ramp to the loft. At one point, they managed to find a bit of the wrap that had been stolen the day before into the larger pen and were off to the races. These animals are much heavier, much rougher in their play and less intimidated by new people.

At one point, I watched a male see that Zoey (our weight challenged girl) bending over to drink. He streaked across the entire pen and pushed her in the water. She was so furious and chased him and caught him on top of Pam’s lap. When Pam would not allow Zoey to bite him, she turned her energy and aggression against Jane who would not leave Pam’s side. Even when Pam would push Zoey off her lap, Zoey would come up under the crates Pam was sitting on and bite Jane’s tail. Finally, Pam had to seriously chastise Zoey by pining her to the ground with one arm back. Once Pam released Zoey, Zoey would get on to higher ground flash her eyes and act aggressively to Pam and Jane. Finally Zoey settled down. During all this, two of the lowest members of the troop were in my lap clinging like leeches and trying to be as small as possible.

5:00 -Carry the babies in – I ended up with only one – Flash who was a little skittish and I needed to hold both his arm and the scruff of his neck. Flash had been a lab animal and they had done surgery on him so that his eyebrows would always be raised to show him in a constant aggressive pose. Hmmmm?

I was finally going to take a shower and as cooks always get first in the shower, Jemma and I went first. The shower was out on the porch, enclosed by walls, no light and the floor was absolutely littered with partially used shampoo bottles. The wall where you might put your shampoo was covered in rat poop. My organizing brain was already deciding that what it needed beside a light was a plastic crate for all the bottles to be housed in and a rag to get rid of the rat terds.

One of the things that sort of set me off energy wise this am is that the food supplied for the volunteers appears very limited. I knew the food would be vegetarian, but I had expected a little more variety. Add on top of that that most of the volunteers has bought additional supplies that take up all the room in the fridge and cabinet. I was having a hard time locating what supplies would be available for me to use for cooking. The one item they have in abundance was frozen soup, but no crackers, no bread, nothing to serve with it. I finally thought that maybe soup and deviled eggs would work. Jemma the other cook, wanted jacket potatoes (we had had mashed potatoes and stuffing the night before). So what we settled on was twice baked potatoes, two types of deviled eggs and frozen veggies.

The schedule posted on the fridge shows the two who cook and the two who clean up. I had cooked tonight, but I also appeared on the clean up schedule. The schedule was shifted so I did not also have to clean up.

Tomorrow we get three new volunteers. Hopefully, with the added bodies, we will all get lunch breaks and can spread the jobs around.

Posted by ladyjanes 09:10 Archived in South Africa

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I'm so happy I found your blog - I'll be going off to volunteer at the Baboon Sanctuary for 6 weeks this June. It's great to read about the details of your day and how the situation is set up there.

You mentioned being able to blog - did you bring your laptop with you? Was it safe to do so?

by VPech

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