Chimps, Chimps, Chimps and maybe some butterflies

Hello people,

since I got a lot of nice responses on my previous blog I decided that I will write another one here in Congo encompassing my last week in this country. As I explained in my previous blog the plan was to go pick up my stuff at the Mandrill site on thursday, go to the islands from friday till tuesday and then tour around the sanctuary and visit Pointe Noire for a last time. As is the case with a lot of things in Africa. Normally things don’t go as planned. Especially when you look at timeframes. Thankfully I am used to waiting after my years abroad.

Thursday came and went without me going to pick up my stuff. The new plan was to leave friday early in the morning. So I was ready from 08.00 onwards. 9 o’clock came, 10, 11, 12 and still no sign of the car which was supposed to bring us after getting gasoline and food for the mandrills. I was getting worried about having to stay for another day of doing nothing. But finally at 1 the car came and the driver assured me that we will go and that he will return in the evening. It took him another hour to get ready. So at 2 o’clock we finally left. The field assistents insisted I sat in the shotgun position (next to the driver) and, as the luxurious bastard I am, I accepted it without any fight. After a three hour drive I was finally back in the camp and was already dreading the journey back (another three hours on the mainly terrible roads and now even in the dark). 

Quickly I packed my bag and got my tent down. You could actually not describe it as packing the bag. I would rather call it throw everything inside and sit on it till everything fits… After 30 minutes we left the camp already. It was getting dark, so we needed to continue quickly. Every guide book of a random African country advises you against travelling by car after dark. But since I sure as hell did not want to stay for another night with my large army of friends in the forest (called the Tsetse-fly, black-flies and Malaria Mosquitos) I decided against speaking with the driver about it. Luckily we did not encounter any problems and got back to the sanctuary at around 20.45.

Since I was supposed to leave for the islands where they are reintroducing chimps on Friday I wasn’t sure when I would get a new opportunity. So saturday I set out to find someone who would know. Finally aroun noon I found the head of the Islands project and he told me that they would actually leave in 10 minutes. So I quickly packed my bag (nicely, not like the day before) and went with him. Tuesday I would still be able to return. After a nice one hour boatride over a big river (forgot the name) we arrived at the basecamp on the opposite side of the Tchindzoulou Island. After finding a nice spot for my tent I went with the local staff and the french head of the project to feed the group on Tchindzoulou Island. Wow, it was really great to see chimps so closeby. The only thing which separated us was 1 meter of muddy shoreline. I was not allowed to leave the boat, something I also did not wanted looking at the size of some of the chimps (yeah yeah, pussy, I know).

On sunday I woke up early and went with the staff to all the islands (Gombe, Tchindzoulou and Tchibebe) and spoke extensively with the head of the project. Encountered a lot of chimps, one decided to even spit on us (there is always a possibility to get piss or poo on you when being around monkeys, so spit was one of the best things you could get on you) . Overall a nice experience. I even found the time to have a small hike in the forest in the vicinity of the Tchindzoulou camp. However, hiking alone in an unknown forest with several dangerous snake species present did not seem to be one of the best ideas of my life. So after an hour I decided to head back. Thankfully (and rather boring) I did only see some birds, crabs, insects and butterflies (of which I made some really nice pictures, but I can’t share them now since they are on my camera). 

On monday I joined the head of the project and some staff members during a trip in the forest near the Islands to gather and cut fallen trees to use in the construction of the houses for the project. A good way to use useful timber species which are otherwise decaying on the ground. However, there is also an argument against it (in dutch we say “Dood hout leeft”: Dead wood lives), being that dead wood harbours a lot of insects and nutrients for regeneration. But looking at the small scale at which this is done I would see it as a good example of the multi-purpose forests we like in Europe as well. 

After a relaxing afternoon of reading with a view on the chimps on the Tchindzoulou island (on the opposite side of the river) night came and meant that my last day at the Islands was over. It was a great experience and a good example of project with a bright future!
Tuesday I had to wait again for the boat. Which came around 12.30 and we left around 13.30. Fully packed with staff whom where going home we got back to Bas-Kouilou in only 35 minutes. There was already a car waiting with building supplies for the islands and two white researchers whom also needed to go to the Islands. The odds of finding another dutch person in Congo Brazzaville are very low and for that dutch person being from Wageningen University the odds are even lower (however, probably Wageningen has one of the largest amounts of students and researchers doing research abroad). But here stood two researchers (a supervisor and a masters student) from Wageningen university whom where going to research Malaria-mosquitos in the vicinity of chimps. After a short introduction they left for the Islands and I went back to Tchimpounga for a nice shower and a normal bed.

I still needed to buy some food, so thursday I wanted to go for a shopping trip to Pointe Noir. The new car (sponsored among others by the JGI Netherlands) had arrived and I could go with it to town. However, plans quickly change and I had to wait another hour and go with another car and the other dutch people to town. I only needed to get my last groceries, but they needed more. So in the end we spend the whole day in Pointe Noire and we only arrived back with groceries, a cooler box (since they couldn’t find the rest) and only the dutch student since his supervisor already had to get back. Today (friday), was marked by two nice experiences. The youngest chimps here are led every morning to a nearby forest to play and learn more about the forest. Since they are led to the forest by their caregivers whilst being free some manage to run off and making the caregiver to follow them. This morning I was sitting outside going through my pictures when the caregivers walked near me with the young chimps. One broke free and ran at me. Quickly he climbed on top of me, after which he hugged me and ran of again since the caregiver was nearby. I was a bit stunned about what had just happened, but afterwards I can say it was again a great experience.    

Rebeca (the head of the sanctuary and JGI Congo) took me and the dutch student to a hill overlooking the sanctuary and explained us everything about the history and the future of Tchimpounga. She also took us to see the large groups on another side of the sanctuary where you are normally not allowed to go as a visitor, since these large chimps after a possible escape could easily hurt you. Seeing these large chimps makes you really wonder why they aren’t called the king of the Jungle… 

Now I am finished with packing and also done with writing. Having to write this on a tablet with a bluetooth keyboard which sometimes has a delay, causing you to write double letters or delete more letters than you want to, is not a great way of writing. So for my future trips I will probably take a laptop with me again. I would like to thnk you all for reading and I will keep you updated about my search for a job or projects abroad where I can work. Somethings are currently being arranged. But since there are a lot of maybe’s I am not going to discuss it here yet.

greetings from Congo for the second and last time,

Yannick

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La bon vie en Afrique

As promised on my facebook I am now finally writing my first blog from the guesthouse of the Jane Goodall Institute in Tchimpounga (Republic of Congo). In this blog I will take you through my journey to Congo, the first experiences and the first trip to the Mandrill release site in the Conkouati-Douli National Park. So let’s start!

Journey
After a bad night of sleeping at my parents house I was ready to start my journey to my beloved Africa again. It seemed like the Dutch railwaysystem already wanted me to get a headstart at the African way of life. No trains between Ede-Wageningen and Utrecht… Which would result in an hour of extra travel time if I decided to continue my journey by train. Thank god my parents were already planning on going to the middle of the country for a visit, so they could take me to Utrecht, however they changed the route midway and decided they will drop me off at Schiphol. After I ride in the dutch rain I was already looking forward to the African sun. I will not bother you with the events during my long flight from Amsterdam – Frankfurt – Addis Abeba – Pointe Noire. Just that whenever anyone has a stopover in Addis Abeba I would advice them to go to the toilet in the airplane instead of the Airport. The state of the toilets come close to that of a roadside public toilets I had to use during a busride from Santa Cruz to Cochabamba (Bolivia) while having a severe foodpoisoning. As you can imagine a very traumatic experience :).

Arrival

Being sleep-deprived I arrived at Pointe Noire airport. A small airport where instead of smelling the dusty African air I was welcomed by a sea-breeze coming in. I must say I prefer the dust. After filling in the arrival forms and going to baggage pick-up and customs I walked into the arrival hall. Where a lot of taxi drivers were fighting for people to take to town. Luckily I was met by three people from the JGI. Patrick (one of the Mandrill researchers I will replace), Neus (a Spanish woman working as head of logistics at the JGI) and a colleague of her. They told me we were going to do some shopping and I was supposed to get stuff for a week in the forest, since we were already leaving the day after instead of two days later. Not knowing what to buy I randomly got stuff to eat and with some help from Patrick I was ready to go. On to Tchimpounga Animal Sanctuary. Where we would spend the night and early in the morning would leave for the forest. After arriving I couldn’t wait to sleep, so I quickly dove into some pasta Patrick made and afterwards went straight to bed. Only to wake up at 5 in the morning by chimps making a lot of noise. The benefits of being surrouded by chimps…. Both Patrick and me were up early and ready to go. 8 o’clock, no car. 9 o’clock still no car. 10 o’clock guess what? Still nothing. We finally left at 11.30 for a 3 hour drive to the forest. In kilometers it is a drive you can do in 1/1.5 hour. But the quality of the roads here made that impossible.

The forest       

 After a three hour car ride which felt more like a continuous bumpercar ride we arrived at the camp. The place which I need to call home for the coming period. The camp was not much different than the pictures I got from the PhD student working there. So no strange surprises there. After a short round to meet the people in the camp I was allowed to go and check the Mandrill site. With a boat we had a nice 10-15 minute drive over a winding river to the Mandrill cage. Did I arrive in Amazonia or was this still Africa?  

After a quick look we went back to allow me to “build” my house for the coming period. With help of Alessandro (the other researcher) I got my tent up quickly and started with the decoration of my house. Where to put the inflatable bed? Where my clothes, books and other equipment? Being scared of the rats eating a way into my tent I decided to keep my food in plastic containers outside of the tent. Just like the others did.

The director arrived later that night since she wanted to check up on the project and discuss current events. Something I won’t be able to talk about due to a confidentiality agreement. However it caused the project to change dramatically and there was only a small place left for me. The days were spend getting to know the Mandrills at the cage (the humans were caged in and not the monkeys) and having nice hikes with Alessandro and Patrick trying to spot a forest elephant (and other wildlife). Going through dense understories filled with Marantaceae. I can’t identify it to species level since I am terrible at botany, something you wouldn’t expect from someone who spend more than two years working in the herbaria of Naturalis (Wageningen en Leiden). I must say I was pretty proud of myself when I identified the correct family 🙂

The stay in the forest lasted longer than expected, so in the end I did not have anything left for breakfast, which resulted in me having to eat pasta or rice as breakfast for several days. When we arrived back in Tchimpounga on saturday whe were forced to eat rice as breakfast for another two days, since there was no car on sunday to Point Noire. Thank god we were saved sunday afternoon by one of the spanish staff members and her boyfriend here. They took us to the beach where we could eat fish and fried banana whilst enjoying a lovely Ngok beer. La bon vie en Afrique!

The view. Even during this cloudy day it was nice and hot

Les bon moments sont rare

You are probably wondering why I am adding some french phrases in between all the English text. The manager of the fieldcamp has some catchphrases which we were hearin on a day to day basis: Les bon moments sont rare (the good times are rare), La bon vie en Afrique (the good life in Africa), Les hommes bien (the good guys) and La music blesse (the music hurts). Sorry for my bad writing in French. In the last few months my focus was on understanding spoken french and being able to speak french. The last catchphrase needs some explanation. He was always together with his small radio with Congolese music on it. It would start from the moment he got up until his batteries were dead. So as a protest the others created the phrase and now he is using it as well.
Now back to the title of this chapter. As I wrote on facebook I needed to discuss some things before writing a blog. Due to the changes in the way thte work is done. The only role for me would be to drive the boat, make sure the local staff is working, observe the Mandrills for a short time two times a day when they were feeding at the edge of the river and for the rest of the day spend my time entering data collected by the local staff. Coming from a job where I spend the whole day behind the computer working with data one could say I wasn’t looking forward to this change in plans. So I needed to talk to the director to see what we could do about this. After a long talk we decided that there isn’t much else I could do here and that I needed to decide what I wanted to do. Stay and sit behind the computer the majority of the day (whilst being in the primitive camp) or go home and spend my time trying to find another job. In the end it was a difficult decision, but a good one. I do not want to feel miserable for the 3 coming months so I have decided to come home after I visited the several projects which the JGI has in Congo. The plan now will be that tomorow I am getting my tent and other gear at the Mandrill site and then come back directly to Tchimpounga. Friday I will leave to the islands on the reserve where another project is on its way to release chimps from the sanctuary back into the forest. I will return on tuesday after which I get a tour around the sanctuary and see how they are working here. Then the following saturday (26 september) I will fly back to the Netherlands, where I will arrive on sunday morning around nine. So in the end it is a short stay in Congo of only one month but again it is an experience where I learned a lot as a conservationist and as a person. But I hope the next experiences will finish on a better note. I would like to stress that I will not hold any grudges towards the JGI. I have been active within the JGI since 2009 and know all about the great work they are doing around the world and I also can see the great work they are doing here. But sadly enough there is no place here for me to feel useful and to have a positive impact. Now I will return back to the Netherlands where I will continue my activities with the JGI Netherlands. So Burgers’ Zoo here I come :). And if someone has a nice job for me from October onwards please let me know…

Probably another blog will follow after my experiences on the islands and around Tchimpounga (but most likely not as long as this one). Thanks for reading (if you made it this far) and see you back home!

Yannick            

Ready to go

Hey,

the bags are packed and I only still need to buy some “stroopwafels” to hand out to the local staff at the Jane Goodall Institute in Congo. So I am ready for take off. This afternoon I will start my long trip. First from Nijmegen to Schiphol by train continued by a flight to Frankfurt, Addis Abeba and Pointe Noire. In total I will be traveling from this afternoon 15.00 till tomorrow 13.30. In Congo I will directly do my grocery shopping for the field so that we can continue to the Tchimpounga Sanctuary without having to return to Pointe Noire. After only two days in Congo I will already leave for the rainforest and have to live in my tent for the coming two weeks. The plan is that I will be staying in the forest for two weeks at a time. Studying the Mandrills for 14 days continuously and then returning to the sanctuary to rest and eat some fresh foods again. This cycle will continue until I leave the country on the 19th of December.

I am really looking forward to my trip and also a little bit scared for the living conditions in the field (humidity, mosquitos and primitive living). I will try to keep you updated by posting regularly on my site.

greetings,

Yannick

A new step

Hello everyone,

It has been a while since I posted anything. So now a new post to keep you informed of what I am going to do. At the end of June we completed the project at Naturalis. Which meant that I needed to find something else to do. The dream of working abroad is still alive. So I embarked on a mission to find work or a project abroad. And I can say that I found a great project which will keep me busy till the end of the year. My contacts at the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) helped me to get a voluntary position to gain more work experience in the field, abroad and working with wildlife. I am especially grateful for the help given by Diederik, the executive director of the JGI Netherlands. Today I have booked my flights, so now I can say that I will be leaving the Netherlands on the 31st of August and will return on 19 December.

I will be going to the Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville) to work as a researcher within the Mandrill release programme in the Conkouati-Douli National Park. In this park the JGI has released mandrills whom were captured from traders/ private owners. Now they are monitoring and researching these released monkeys. In my capacity as a scientist I have to make sure that we maintain the same research quality during my time in the field. I will be doing the research together with local staff and during my first weeks there will be other researchers from whom I will take over the research. Below I have added some pictures of the living conditions in the field.

I am looking forward to going back in the field without internet and phone connections, but it will take a while to get used to the living conditions. During my time there I will try to send an update once a month, but I am not sure if I am able to do that.

greetings,

Yannick

Bench press
Bench press
Camp
Camp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jungle Gym
Jungle Gym
Kitchen
Kitchen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shower
Shower
Toilet
Toilet

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