Travels with Linda: Christmas with Chimps

In 1988 I was lucky enough to travel to Zambia and visit the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage with my friend Harriet Crosby. This amazing center is still active and saves animals from the bush meat trade.

Harriet and I were in Kenya at the Sheldrick Elephant Orphange.  In November Carolyn Bocian from the National Zoo in Washington D.C. sent me information for “AN APPEAL FOR FUNDS TO HELP 17 ORPHANED CHIMPANZEES IN AFRICA”:

“The privately operated Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage in Zambia urgently needs your support in building new outdoor facilities for 17 young chimpanzees confiscated by government authorities from wildlife poachers and smugglers.

The number of  youngsters living at Chimfunshi was growing year by year as the Zambians try to enforce laws against commercial trafficking in baby chimpanzees obtained by shooting and poisoning their mothers and relatives.

The Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage was the only sanctuary in Africa accepting confiscated chimpanzees. Confiscation programs in many other countries depended on its continuing operation and expansion.  David and Sheila Siddle, the Directors of Chimfunshi,  single-handedly managed and supported the project since through the early 80s. Their private resources were nearly exhausted. Outside financial aid was urgently needed to finish constructing an outdoor compound where the orphans can live as a normal social group.”

This plea for support was enough to make us decide to “pop” down to Zambia.  We were really flying by the seat of our pants.  Harriet and I made the impulsive decision to head to Zambia from Nairobi.  We were told there was no space available into Lusaka (Zambia’s capital) – even standby was full – and we had no luck making connections to Chingola, where we had been told by a World Wild Life advisor to fly. We managed to get on the plane and arrived in Lusaka at 9:30 p.m., only to discover there had never been a flight to Chingola. The closest airport was Kitwe but they didn’t fly there tomorrow.

On the ride into town, with a kind airline employee who drove us because it was too late for a taxi, we were informed that we’d better have a good reason for being in Zambia because any white people were most often assumed to have nefarious intentions.

It was a most educational experience getting to Siddle’s ranch. We flew to a town 100 kilometers from Chingola, where we were to telex friends of the Siddles, but the telexes were shut down for Christmas, imagine life pre-email and Whatsapp! Thirty hours after we arrived in Ndola, Harriet ran into a British woman who took us to an American Lutheran minister friend of hers. He very kindly called around northern Zambia until he found someone who knew the Siddles, got careful directions, popped his family in his fancy van, and drove us three and a half hours to the Chimfuhni chimpanzee sanctuary.

Dave and Sheila were relieved to see us, knowing we were enroute, but having no idea where!

I had the honor of spending Christmas with the Siddle family (the founders) where their living room had an adjoining wall to the chimps’ enclosure so they could be nearby.

I spent many hours sitting with the Chimps, writing in my journal. The Chimps were so curious that you had to keep all of your belongings close. A young British volunteer had her camera taken by a young male, in her surprise, she shrieked, which frightened the chimp and caused him to bite her on her leg. Chimp bites are very serious and prone to terrible infection. We were in the middle jungle with no medical supplies. I immediately started to do very light “Raccoon TTouches” all around the bite. She was very distraught and in shock with huge bite marks on her leg. By the time we were transported back to our accommodations there was no redness or swelling. The bite was cleaned as best it could be and it healed with out incident.

I also did TTouches on a young Chimp with a cold with congestion. After a few minutes of Ear TTouches his breathing cleared and he was less congested.

During my time with the Siddles I spent many hours keeping a journal, which I still have here at home in my office!

Here are a few of the entries I made during my visit.

My journal reads:



We had a cold beer sitting under a long

thatched roof with handmade table and chairs. The view is spectacular, over a river flood plain with several hundred acres of grass bordered by forests as far as the eye can see. In the rainy season the river overflows and the plane is covered by water. A lawn stretches out from the sitting area. Left of the lawn is an enclosure with 12 orphaned baboons, previously very gentle and much handled by David and Sheiks, but now isolated for attacking strangers. They’re waiting for release.

An orange orchard borders the far side of the lawn–with geese and wild ducks.

On the right is the house, and all 17 chimpanzees. We meet the chimps and are warned to keep the glasses out of reach. They love to take them and scrape the floor!

The 9 youngsters are on the outside. Beyond are the older groups, directly attached to the living room. The whole living room “wall” is wire, looking directly into the chimp cage.

When any chimp is sick it is taken into bed with Sheila and Dave–if young enough to diaper. If not, Sheila sleeps in the straw with them.

5:00 PM–Patrick, the trusted keeper who has been with the chimps for 5 years goes off duty. Sheila and Dave feed everyone their ball of meal, cooked and mixed with vegetables and garlic. All the chimps are very gentle and orderly in their receiving of the food.

They have met us gently, taking our hands on theirs. Sandy, one of the 14 year 01d3 has a cold. I work on his ears and he hugs the wire and sticks his ear out to me. Cooo reaches out and grabs the money out of my pocket. Sheila rescues it just in time.

From 5-6 PM is the time the chimps try to break out, so David must go carefully around all the cages checking the wire. We make a tour of the 7 acre enclosure. An enormous wall surrounds it, 15 feet tall with electric wire planned for the top. There will be a lower strand of electric wire at 5 feet. The chimp will most likely break off branches and lean them against the wall to scale it. David reels that they should know the wire is electrified before they get up to 15 feet, touch it and tall back so far.

Only the gate remains to be finished, and the roof of the cement holding areas, and the wire around the top. David figures another 2 months.

The area is heavily wooded and grassed. We sit around the outside table in the twilight discussing the TTouch and TTeam.

Sheila treats all their Zambians in the ranch compound (village) and is interested in the TTouch.

8:30 PM–Darkness descends. The 9/10th full moon lights the African night. We go into the house for dinner of boiled potatoes, stew, squash and mixed vegies. And directly after fall into bed. The generator is turned off and we wash up by the light of the Kerosene lanterns.

Our rooms don’t have mosquito nets. I learn the next day that malaria carrying mozzies don’t buzz and don’t leave an itchy spot. Who knows if we’ve been bitten or not. Within the first week that Tracy arrived with Mark from England she contracted malaria. Tracy had only been on anti-malaria tablets for a week. Same with me.

Her malaria started with intense fever and dizziness. Lasted about 1 days, which she spent mostly sleeping and returned lightly a week later with weakness. David and Sheila get malaria frequently in spite of 16 years of anti-malaria tablets.

Dec. 22, 1988: Chimfunsi

6:00–The alarm gently breaks my dream state. One hour until the chimps go into the forest. Sheila suggested we sleep in and follow them later, but we’ve come half way around the world to find this orphanage. “I can sleep when I’m dead”, Moshe used to say.

I dress a little reluctantly and wake Harriet 145 minutes later. What about breakfast? “Oh” she says, “The alarm is set on Kenyan time.” I was up at 5:00 AM.

Back into bed I climb for a short return to dreamtime.

6:145 AM–Zambian time, this time. Tracy and I make cheese and toast sandwiches. Add a coveted swiss chocolate bar hoarded until this moment.

7:05 AM–Everyone–Sheila, David, Harriet, Tracy, Mark, Patrick and I, hoist a clinging chimp onto our hip and parade down the road into the woods. Here, all 9 chimps are set down and the adventure begins. Each day they venture into the forest for 7 hours for walks and just to scatter about, sit in the trees, relax, eat fruit and learn. Rita wants to hold my hand and tries to convince me to pick her up. But she needs the exercise. Her 30+ pounds are a lot to pack on my hip.

Chimps gallop along behind Patrick, spread out on both sides of the trail, 14 humans mixed between. They drink out of mushrooms sometimes 9 inches across, then knock it over and gallop on. Up a tree goes Coco to bring down a mouthful of orange nuts, fruit inside.

Sandy, Tara, Rita, Cora, Boo Boo, Tobas, Donna, Coco. Donna discovers a piece of burlap sack and a chase ensues. Up and down trees, over stumps, diving between close branches. “Watch out” Tobas trick is to swing a branch on someone’s head.

We stop for a break after 30 minutes of walking. Some youngsters climb up a nearby ant hill and into the branches of the tree on top. Sandy hangs out with Harriet who works on his ears to help his cold. My camera comes out and I start the fun of photographing cavorting chimps.

Donna suddenly swings by and grabs our back pack which is lying against a log upon which Tracy is sitting. Tracy yells at her and makes a lunge for the pack as it is being zipped away. Tobra reacts to protect Donna by biting Tracy on the calf. Patrick leaps up and yells at him. Up the ant hill he tears. Tracy is in considerable pain. Two blue holes appear. The skin is severed over these two tooth marks, but it is not bleeding externally. Her calf is in spasm. I start the TTouch, working first about six inches all around. Within 15 minutes the pain is reduced by at least half, and the wound is shrinking before our eyes. Thirty minutes later the tooth marks have disappeared and there is absolutely no discomfort! We continue on our way through the woods.

Clumps of chimps falling out of the trees following the crack of overloaded branches. The loud rustle of leaves as the chimps break off fruit. And behind the ant bill, Harriet has been grunting, playing patticake, tickling, teasing, playing, wrestling with Tobra for over 30 minutes.

The sun is shifting and it’s time to move my towel another 2 feet around the tree. Oh, Oh, Chimp attack! Sandy comes up and starts playing under my towel. I’ve taken my socks and shoes off and I quickly stuff them under the towel. But Tobra rushes up and pushes Sandy away, grabbing a sock in the melee and off he triumphantly tears.

Sock tag, sock tag, off they run, up and down the trees, slapping the ground, teasing, leaping onto a branch which comes crackling down and whompi a chimp thumps onto the ground, leaps up and gallops off.

After ten minutes or so, the sock, stretched, chewed and slightly worse for wear, drops out of a tree into Harriet’s territory. Got it!

I give up, pen and journal go into my pack sack and I deposit it in the safe hands of Patrick. No chimp dares to take it from him. And I join Harriet in chimp wrestling. Tara has taught Harriet how to play. By gently taking Harriet’s hand in her mouth, Harriet has learned to trust her. They somersault roll, patticake, and wrestle. Sandy soon joins her and it’s two to one for the chimps.

I observe for a bit. It looks like too much

fun to pass up, so I get into the act. Now it’s two chimps to two humans. Sandy and Tara leap on us, somersault and land upside down in our laps. I swing Sandy around by an arm and a leg and he can’t get enough. Harriet has Torah hanging by the feet and swinging. What a barrel of monkeys!

I spend a good 30 minutes carefully grooming Torah. He flattens out his belly, head resting on his arms, and loves every second of the attention. When he was playing earlier he would close his eyes, race toward me and somersault into my lap.

3:30 PM–We drove down to Siddle’s son’s end of the ranch. Tony and Linda run the cows, 800 head of Brahma! They have a feedlot for fattening cattle and showed me the feed. A mixture of corn bran and chicken manure. It contains a very high level of protein. Tony also explained their milking style. They milk in the morning only and leave the calf on the cow. One reason is the calves don’t do well, they say, taken off the cow. Here there is no market for veal …. lucky calves!

HORSES: Yesterday I worked with “Sally” a 2 yr. old 1/2 Arab, 1/2 TB filly. Sally’s 20 year old dam was given to Tony on her way to the butchers 3 years ago. Her owner had not been successful in breeding her for many years. Tony brought her home and put her in the pasture with an 11 month old Arab stud colt and bingo! she produced Sally.

Tracy asked me to help her with the young mare. Tracy’s experience is with sheep in England, not horses, and Sally had not lead well at all. Out we went into the pasture, down to the rivers edge to bring up the 4 horses. Three of the four horses are 20 years old, an ex-polo horse, and a broken down race horse with enormous ocelots and arthritic knees. We brought the 20 year old up with Sally since she gets hysterical and stubborn when alone. Tony had been shown by some visiting person who had trained horses in Australia, how to teach a horse to lead by jerking its head around until the horses faces you. Tony had done this to Sally. The outcome was that she had reared, spun away, and kicked out, managing to get away on several occasions.

She was easy to catch, but not easy to lead. The horses were down on the edge of the river, surrounded by the usual white egrets, long legged birds always following cattle or horses. Sally had pulled back and broken her nylon halter, which was twined together under the chin. David had given me some 1/H inch hard rope, which I fastened over the nose as though it were a lead.  We cut several foot light bamboo sticks for a wand.

Sally did not know how to lead. Apparently she had been more or less dragged reluctantly along. I stroked her hack several times and tapped her croup, while giving a tug on her head. No response. Our usual “Dingo” signal was not clear. I turned her head slightly tapping her on the side of the thigh, and she took a few steps forward and stopped.

After repeating this several times, she began to listen mostly to the taps, and I was able to transfer the taps from the thigh from which she instinctively responded by moving her leg arid thereby stepping forward, to the tap on the top of the croup, which she must think about.

Since she normally gets upset when brought out of the pasture alone, we fashioned a half hitch rope halter on the head of Sally’s dam, and brought her along to keep Sally reasonably calm until she learned to lead, and could enjoy being with humans. She was only separated for a week as a yearling, at weaning time, and otherwise had never been away from the horses and was rarely handled. We had to tap and tug every few steps, because Sally would stop when she wasn’t being pulled. We got the horses up to the road, through the gate, and proceeded to a pile of bamboo poles about 9 feet long. From these we made a labyrinth, doubling up the bamboo to get enough length.

Ten minutes in the maze and Sally responded well to the Dingo, and the Dancing Cobra. We did some work on picking up her front feet and I showed Tony how to keep them up without her struggling and losing her balance, he had been pushing his shoulder into hers, the traditional way of getting up a horse’s foot, and then holding it by the hoof. She, naturally, would drop her weight onto the bent fetlock joint and lose her balance. By holding the leg by the fetlock joint she kept her balance and stopped struggling. We did a little work on the hind feet but she was very nervous about them, and tended to kick. So I mostly stroked them with the bamboo stick for today, and finished up with a few circles on the front feet. (I showed them how to work the ears for colic, and do the belly lifts. Sally liked the ear work and the TTouch on her face.)

Tony and Tracy were thrilled. She’d never lead so well or stayed so calm. When Tracy went to brush her at feeding time she whinnied and stood much quieter than usual.

TODAY’s Horses Session: Sally came readily to greet us, and lead much better than yesterday. We took her out of the pasture without another horse. The flies were biting so badly she couldn’t concentrate, so we cut two leafy branches and Linda Siddle brushed flies on one side and I on the other while Tracy lead her. She was very nervous about this at first, but quickly came to appreciate the reprieve from the flies.

Tracy practiced leading and keeping the mare at arms length. She had learned to head a horse as close as she could get to the lead, but quickly got the hang of tapping Sally lightly on the side of the neck to keep her away. I fashioned a chain from a spare piece Tony had discovered in the work shed, and tied it by the right side of the halter with a piece of 1/2 inch rope. She was much better today in the labyrinth and stood quietly in the end while her back legs were brushed with the leaves quite firmly. We lead her up the road, past the horses and away from the pasture.

At one point she reared and tried to bolt away, but Tracy held quietly and firmly and the mare settled. That was a major step ahead for Tracy. Sally lead today without constantly tapping her on the croup and tested Tracy one more time with a rear and a little explosion, but lowered her head immediately and remained obedient and interested after that.

We only worked 30 minutes, but it was an excellent lesson and the first time she was brought away from the other horses and remained quiet. Tracy gained a lot of confidence.

6:00 PM–Harriet and Dave and Sheila and I sat in the living room relaxing with a beer and reviewing the day. The chimps slept soundly, separated from us only by the three layers of wire. The occasional cough or snuffle provided background to our conversation.

Sheila’s had a hard day. A run with the big “canter” duel wheeled rack diesel truck to

Chingola 30 miles south has produced worrisome news. A new law is going into effect next month. Every Zambian adult must personally pick up his or her own government allotment of meal, the staple diet of Zambia. How on earth are the Siddle’s 70 farm hands going to walk 60 miles round trip each month?

Sheila picked up a truck load of meal a week early because of the unrest. And today, as usual, there were long lines of anxious women and men collecting their allotment. Sheila had permits for sugar and cooking oil for her people but the pick up instructions were reversed. The oil was where the sugar was and vice versa, so she got neither. It was too late. Not only do Siddle’s feed 70 farm hands, but according to tribal custom, all their relatives besides. Which means they’re feeding over 200 people.

The rate of malnutrition and disease contacted from a river snail is intense, and seems to effect all aspects of Zambian life. David was telling us more horror stories. How one of the oldest and best producing mango trees was cut down in their compound because a snake ran up the tree. In the excitement their solution was to cut the tree.

Every season edible caterpillars infest the trees on the ranch. They’re cut down so the Zambians can capture and eat the caterpillars.

10:30–Chimp time. Martin led Tracy and I out to the bush to meet the chimps. When we joined them Tobra ran at Tracy and bit her on the thigh. Patrick went after him with a stick and he “talked back” by running about 10 feet and then turned around and screamed at Patrick. That scared and infuriated Patrick who yelled louder and threw sticks at him as he fled high into a tree. What a misunderstanding l Tracy has been afraid of Tobra from the beginning and I think he mirrors her.

Naturally, Tracy was in shook, trembling and almost in tears, so we first worked on her for a good 30 minutes, Mark on her ears, Harriet on her back, and I on the bite. Tobra sat quietly subdued in the tree above us.

When he came down he tried to hang around to apologize but Patrick chased all the chimps away. Off they ran terrified, Cora and June and Donna running upright, clinging to each other for protection, arms wrapped tightly around shoulders or waists.

Tobra was in shook. He did not join the others. He was raised by an American couple as a baby and cannot understand being driven away. Sandy had clung to Harriet, tight as a tick, while the others were being chased away. So we took Sandy and quietly played and groomed him near Tobra, trying to interest him in coming to us for consolation and forgiveness. But it was at least 20 minutes before he came close. We rolled on the grass, presented our backsides to him, but nothing made him feel better. Finally he came close to us where Tracy was and after another hour she was able to groom him and they made up. It was the first time she had played with him, and after that he ran to her several times for protection.

Tobra still wants desperately to be accepted by Patrick who’s present interaction is only to yell at him or drive him away. We’re going to try to explain to Patrick that Tobra’s threatening is from fear. Patrick was better at the end of the day, after watching us play and cavort and roll in the grass with many of the chimps.

Mark and Tracy gave Patrick a number of presents, including a coke, which Patrick drank and shared with the chimps. What a sight it was to see them playing tag with a coke can.

6:00 PM–Rock and roll music drifted enticingly toward the river, emanating from an old eight inch cassette. Sheila love rocks and roll. We had our usual conversation until dark then watched a one hour video of Tare and the chimps several years ago, and finished the day with a fish dinner prepared by Mark and Tracy.

Beef based potatoes soup, small delicious local fish laid on a bed of rice surrounded by ranch grown tomatoes and scallions.

Harriet and I wrapped Christmas presents. It’s amazing what we’re finding to give. I write this journal by the light of a kerosene lantern. Row lovely and soft the light is.

What an unusual Christmas eve. In another 9 hours friends and family will be enjoying Christmas eve in New Mexico, California and Canada and I go to bed to the insistent chirp of tree toads and bullfrogs and the gentle sound of rein on the tin roof.

Christmas paper flies while four children madly open their presents as 17 chimps look on through the wire into the living room. Seven yr. old Craig is down with Malaria and the first symptoms of fever appeared on the drive from Chingola. He couldn’t keep the antimalaria pills down. I work on his feet for over an hour, through a cool, wet towel. His temperature reduces. He quits throwing up and can keep a spoonful of Fancidol down. After a cool bath he is much better, and comes out to open his Christmas presents. Re plays the rest of the day. A great opportunity for Sheila and his mother Lorraine to learn the TTouch.

We visit Sheila’s elephant graveyard. Only the skull and a few bones remain. This was one of the last of six elephants who lived on the Siddle’s ranch for 3 years. They never broke through a fence in that time. Sheila lugged the bones into a safe spot under a rose bush the size of a tree. There were no elephants left to bring the last one. A relic of a dying species.

We left Dave and Sheila and the chimps reluctantly for our 13 hour journey home. I’m delighted to report that the trip was most successful financially. You may remember from the last issue that Harriet Crosby had called me to see if she could accompany me on one of my animal adventures and help in any way with Animal Ambassadors. Well, she donated a very generous amount, enough for the Siddles to finish the compound and also a much needed larger kitchen for the preparation of chimp and human food! So by February we expect the chimps to be out in their 7 acre compound. The young ones will still accompany Patrick into the forest each day, and Harriet is planning to go back to visit in the summer. Sandy and Tobra and Rita and Boo Boo and Sheila and Dave really got a hold on her heart!

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