For more information and bookings click here*
Join us on this unique project in northern Zambia, and get the chance to help take care of over a hundred chimpanzees in the biggest chimp sanctuary in the world! Interact with young orphaned chimps, record and learn about the animals' behaviour, and help educate local Zambian children about chimpanzees and other wildlife. A unique way to contribute to the conservation of these endangered species.
The Wildlife Orphanage (where it all started...)
Chimfunshi is a family-run wildlife orphanage in the north of Zambia. Chimfunshi was founded in 1983 when a game ranger brought a badly wounded infant chimpanzee to the cattle ranch of David and Sheila Siddle, a British couple who had lived in the Zambian Copperbelt since the 1950s. The Siddles nursed that chimp – nicknamed "Pal" – back to health, thereby establishing a tradition of care and respect that forms the legacy of the sanctuary. Once word of Pal’s recovery spread, the Siddles found themselves inundated with orphaned chimpanzees. Although many are confiscated from poachers who attempt to smuggle the infants for sale as pets, an equally large number are rescued from dilapidated zoos and circuses from all over the world. With over a hundred chimpanzees, Chimfunshi is now the largest chimp sanctuary in the world.
In 2002, an Education Centre was built to provide a facility to teach the youth of Zambia about ecology and wildlife conservation. It is also used by local and international students researching group behaviour and ethnic studies. There may be times occasionally when volunteers assist with conservation education to the school groups.
The Siddles’ work has won them a steady stream of honors and awards, including the United Nations Environment Programme’s Global 500 Award (2000), the Audi / Terra Nova nomination (2001), a special commendation from the Nedbank / Mail & Guardian Green Trust Awards (2000), and the Jane Goodall Award (1995). In 2001, the Siddles were granted MBEs by Queen Elizabeth II in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace.
Sheila Siddle and one of her daughters, Silvia, still lives at Chimfunshi (next to the orphanage) and you will usually get to meet her at least once (on a Wednesday) and hear her fascinating stories of how she first arrived in Africa as a child (overland from the UK) and how the Chimpanzee sanctuary was founded at Chimfunshi!
(It’s recommended that you read the book: ‘In my family tree – A life with Chimpanzees’ – written by Sheila Siddle and Doug Cress (Foreword by Jane Goodall) , as it’s all about Chimfunshi and how it all started – and includes loads of stories about individual Chimps and their background).
Please note that this should not be considered a ‘hands on’ project. Chimp walks usually take place once a week and this is when you will have ‘hands on’ contact with the Chimps.
A day in the life of a Chimfunshi volunteer…
Every day is different so you need to remain flexible and open minded to this. Volunteers are encourage to use initiative and create enrichment activity ideas for the chimps (agreed with your Project Manager). A day in the life of a volunteer on this project may look something like this (please note that your schedule is arranged by your Project Manager and may vary from day to day, this is just to give you a general idea):
• Help yourself to breakfast and be ready to leave at 07h15 for the day (packed lunches are provided each day as you will only return to the volunteer base around 16h00).
• Prepare enrichment activities at the enclosure area
• Participate in behavioural enrichment activities for the chimps
• Assist with food preparation for the chimps (when required)
• Lunch break (packed lunch)
• Peanut toss – part of the research activity (at around 14h00)
• Making enrichment toys; watering plants (at the fruit tree nursery); building structures to improve existing tourist infrastructure (like information boards, picnic areas etc)
• Around 16h00 – return to volunteer base (end of volunteer activities for the day). Shower, relax, sit around the campfire and have dinner together
Volunteers work a 6 day week, with Sundays off. On Friday, you will have a half day of volunteering as this is the day volunteers go to the nearest town (Chingola) to browse the local markets or buy any snacks/curios.
Wednesday is the ‘bush walk day’ – volunteers will participate in a ‘bush walk’ with the chimps at the Orphanage. You will be accompanied by a trained Chimpanzee handler and walk/interact with the chimps for a few hours.
Lunch is eaten on the banks of The Kafue River, at the farm area of Chimfunshi, followed by afternoon work on the farm, assisting with fruit picking, irrigation, planting or fertilising of the crops (as fruit is a big part of the Chimps diet).
Below is a breakdown of the activities we get involved with and the reasons behind each activity:
Researchers working at Chimfunshi (not permanently based there, but come every year for a few months) are conducting a project to understand how the chimpanzee groups differ in their social dynamics. These differences will inform us whether there is such thing as a “typical” chimpanzee community, and if there isn’t, how differences in chimpanzee social dynamics affect processes of social learning and cooperation. There will be opportunity for volunteers to assist in research which could involve the distribution of food into the social group or help with video data collection that focuses on infant chimpanzees or high-ranking males.
Volunteers will also be encouraged to take photos and gather history, character and age information about the chimps in order to create identikits. This will also be used to create Chimfunshi information guides, family trees and to improve the Education Centre. Photos of butterflies, birds, reptiles, flowers etc. will be encouraged, as there are plans to turn Chimfunshi into a nature reserve. An inventory of all the different species would be a nice addition to help visitors enjoy their time there more.
There are several chimpanzees at Chimfunshi which are permanently enclosed in rooms. This is usually for a reason which is beyond Chimfunshi’s control. For instance, chimpanzee’s such as Chiffon (enclosure 4) and Milla (enclosure 3) are experts at escaping from the large enclosures. They have been released into the large enclosures on several occasions and always escape, either by leaning dead trees against the fence or lifting the fence and escaping underneath. They are not aggressive but it is still dangerous having fully grown chimpanzees outside the enclosures which may pose a risk to guests, researchers or keepers.
We would like to provide a bit of extra stimulation for these chimpanzees and this is what we call ‘Behavioral enrichment’.
Behavioral enrichment tasks volunteers will partake in may include:
• Making/constructing permanent behavioral enrichment structures/’toys’ to entertain the chimpanzees (such as tyre swings, shaking boxes etc)
• Making temporary toys/challenges for chimpanzees (often food based) to keep the chimpanzees occupied
• Taping food to walls in difficult to reach places so that the chimpanzees must improvise to get the food
• Filling drilled holes (in logs) with porridge to replicate termiting behavior and providing the chimpanzees with sticks to fish them out
• even by just providing company to the enclosed chimpanzees, the volunteers are helping to enrich their lives
Behavioral enrichment is flexible and the more creative we are, the better, so you will be encouraged to come up with your own ideas and it would be even better if you’ve researched behavioral enrichment techniques before arrival.
Chimfunshi has in the past (and still to a lesser extent today) relied on donor money to buy food to feed the chimpanzees and donations of expired fruit and vegetables from grocery stores. An extra piece of land was purchased a few years ago by donors, with the aim for Chimfunshi to become self-sufficient and less reliant on donations, but rather to grow its own food for the chimpanzees.
A portion of the land is now dedicated to agriculture and a farm manager has been employed to grow crops such as cabbage, maize, sweet potatoes, onions, tomatoes and groundnuts. The farm is always in desperate need of extra helping hands and so once a week volunteers will help out. You will have opportunity to assist with farming duties, such as harvesting, sorting, weeding, fertilizing, picking oranges and lemons or whatever other tasks may be required of you.
Chimfunshi attracts many visitors and school groups. We would like to assist Chimfunshi in becoming more tourist-friendly and better equipped to provide visitors with a fulfilling and enriching experience when they visit. Volunteers have already completed shaded viewing shelters at the enclosures, put up information boards and built picnic sites for visitors. Volunteers will assist with whichever infrastructure improvement is happening at the time of their visit.
Fruit tree nursery
The aim is to propagate fruit trees that can be harvested to feed the chimpanzees. Some trees will be transplanted within the enclosures to provide the chimpanzees with supplementary fruits they can harvest themselves. Volunteers will assist with the propagating, bagging, weeding, watering and planting of fruit tree seedlings.
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