Monday, January 5, 2009

No Monkey Business

Drill monkeys are short tailed rainforest monkeys that survive only in a handful of places one among which is the Cross River State and are one of Africa's most endangered primates being hunted for bushmeat! We visited two conservation initiatives Cercopan ( and Pandrillus ( Both organizations have a captive facilitates in Calabar and much larger forested areas few hours north of Calabar. Having made up our minds to wake up in a forest on Christmas Day, we headed up to Afi Drill Ranch on 24th morning. After five hours in a taxi and wahalla with our taxi driver over how much we owed him, we completed the final leg of our journey on a "machine" (what they call bikes here) meandering through a uphill and downhill muddy road. The Ranch is home to about thirty gorillas, chimps and drill monkeys and other forest animals including mongooses, parrots, pigs, eagles and others I didnt know about.

The ranch has a shared full equipped cooking facility to allow us to make our own food. It has about six netted cabins which allow for a panoramic view of the forest. They have a hole in the ground loo and an open shower area. Afi is run by an American couple, Liza and Peter who have been here for about twenty years (a number we were repeatedly reminded of).

After settling our stuff in our cabins, we headed for a serene walk in the forest. First stop was the various monkey enclosures. The chimps were the noisiest and the naughtiest of them all-one particular chimp loves to play throw and catch with his food with visitors-he seemed to pick me that day! And as Peter was telling us its not clear who is amused by whom! The male drill was the most striking with a blue and pink bottom!
We then walked over a seemingly rickety but strong canopy walk way built by the former governor of the state-Donald Duke. Its a 40 meter drop and was designed with an aim to allow visitors to enjoy the forest without disturbing the flora and fauna. The views from the canopy (where I did dare to look sideways and down while trying to maintain my balance) were quite breathtaking. The grandiose project was more of a personal wish and showgame without much of a plan for training the staff in maintenance or proper use.

We then headed on to the Bano Waterfalls. The cool and clean water was as close to a pedicure I could ask for!

In the evening, along with the unexpected chill, came christmas carols! I was with a group of people who are used to the tradition of xmas with carols, turkey, wine, the tree and gifts! Our collective peeling, chopping, cooking & eating was accompanied by a intensely polarised debate about the future of Nigeria in which we all were on one side and Peter on the other!

The next day we repeated our walkway and waterfalls tour albeit a bit more slowly this time. Peter was kind enough to offer us fresh palm wine and dropped us in his new land rover (which was a gift from the governor in an attempt to woo him!) to the nearest town.

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