I have just returned from South Africa, where I spent an incredible few days volunteering with the delightful monkeys and baboons at our monkey rehabilitation centre deep in the South African bush. Armed with fantastic memories of a warm welcome, delicious food and thoroughly enjoyable days spent with monkeys scampering over my legs, darting into my arms and hopping on to my head, I thought that I would share the experience that awaits you at the Oyster Worldwide monkey and baboon rehab centre.
Home to over 400 vervets and baboons, the site is massive- and extremely beautiful. Flying into the lovely rural airport of Phalaborwa, driving the 90 minute drive to the sanctuary, seemingly deeper into the South African hinterland, and arriving at the leafy, green rehabilitation centre, I was definitely ready to get stuck into the life of a monkey volunteer.
My first afternoon was spent exploring the sanctuary, having a tour and meeting the team and the other volunteers. It was a great way to ease into life in the centre, which by all accounts is relaxed and hectic all at once. The enclosures are large, and become larger as their inhabitants are slowly adapted to the idea of once again living in the wild in a troupe with other monkeys. The baby monkeys need the attention that they should have received from their mothers- which includes lots of feeding and play. Whilst I was there, the baby baboon Tom Tom had to have a surrogate mum every day, and each volunteer had the chance to look after all his needs. I have never before seen such contented faces as the volunteers nurtured and hugged this cute little creature!
The following day started early, before the sun’s heat gained in intensity. The first two hours were spent helping to look after the baby monkeys in their enclosure. This involved a thorough cleaning of the area (removing all inedible foodstuffs and their by-products), washing down the sides of the enclosure and basically making sure that all of the occupants were happy little monkeys. And boy were they pleased to see you- when you arrive in the enclosure, you are greeted by four or five monkeys wanting to pet you, to hug you, to sit on your head and to generally get in the way of your cleaning. What a pleasure.
After these two hilarious and exciting hours, a magnificent breakfast was served. The baby monkeys were taken out of their enclosures for some exercise, and to get up to their fun and games around and about. They love to chase up plants, scamper all over you, and leap from one object to the next. We took them down to the swimming pool to bathe before preparing their food for the evening. Lots of lovely fruits and vegetables- really lucky creatures! We also checked on the quarantined monkeys, giving them their food and re-filling water bowls. There is so much scope here for people interested in getting involved in the veterinary side of life too- with so many animals here, there is a lot going on to keep them healthy and happy! The centre really relies on the help of the volunteers for looking after the monkeys, preparing food, cleaning the enclosures and providing lots of love and affection!
The evening meal was a delight to eat, and was a perfect round off to a full day in the great outdoors. The mood was relaxed and cheerful, with volunteers chatting and laughing on the patio, and glancing up at the incredible Milky Way that was amazingly clear. Baby baboon Tom Tom was scuttling about, playing with the dogs and exploring the new world- it was lovely to watch him. Some of the volunteers were heading off on the Kruger trip the next day too, so all was go go go. I could not believe how well I slept after that day!
Each day is different here, with volunteers spending three days on each specific job (be it food prep, cleaning or looking after the quarantined monkeys) so that they know in-detail what is needed to be done. You then move on to the next job, so get a really in-depth knowledge of the running of the centre, and also plenty of hands on monkey time. No day is the same, with plenty of adventures around every corner. I was very sad to leave after my three short days there, but will look forward to my return- as soon as possible!