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Volunteering in South Africa at the Monkey & Wildlife Rehabilitation Center

Don’t be mistaken, he is hugging you, not “you are hugging him.” And indeed it’s a HE or a SHE, who hugs you… Well, the truth is, that it is mutual. When one of them hugs you, you know and you feel that it’s because he wants your touch, your warmth, your closeness. They need you, and they are sincere.

It has been a touching experience, volunteering in South Africa. I chose this project for what it really is. A  Monkey and Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.

All animals arriving there are refugees from conflicts between humans and nature. They might have lost their mothers because the mother was hunted or run over by a car. They might have been used for medical experiments. They might have been captured to be handled as pets and their owners gave up on them when they started to bite them. One way or another, they had no hope, Until were lucky enough to be rescued and taken to the reserve.  And I was lucky to work with them. Cleaning their cages, preparing their food, feeding, walking, washing, playing, and of course, hugging them.

Days start with bottle feeding the younger babies. They would jump in your arms and grab the bottles and suck the milk swiftly. Matthew, the older and stronger baboon baby, would empty his bottle first and steal Hallen’s one, because if he’d tried Queenie’s she’d scream so badly that even he’d give up on the idea. The others find shelter in our hands.

Then cleaning. That can be an experience, all the range between funny, sportive, filthy and frustrating… Ah well, it ends quickly. Food prep is more of a social event, and quite a few of us would do it together. We used to take Jade with us, a tiny Vervet monkey.  She is pretty, quick, clever, picky, sensitive, and spoiled. She is like a stand up comic while preparing food. Jumping from one to another, tasting what’s in, stuffing her mouth, and screaming every here and there to protest.

Feeding feels like a big feast. You need to use all your skills to manage the animals’ excitement. But that’s when they really are themselves: animals on their way back to the wild.

At noon time, when the sun is at its best, it’s fun to take the monkeys to the swimming pool. Matthew jumps into the water straight away. Queenie screams like hell when Matthew tries to play with her, Corolla climbs the trees. Davie chases Zaffy who is imitating Corolla.  Jade is alone somewhere on the grass hunting insects.

Did you ever have the chance to hug a baboon? They’re so energetic, funny, happy, joyful, filthy, shitty, dirty, and cute animals! A big smile covers my face when I think about them, and I miss their hugs.