Hello. Right, so 9th week in and we've finally found the time, motivation and reliable internet access to begin our travel blog... As it will be ever so slightly backdated we will try to be brief.
We Jetted off for South Africa on Thursday 5th August 2010. As it was a long haul flight we had individual TV's with a good choice of films. Drinks were complementary - something that Kieran took full advantage of! :) - and breakfast (@ 5am) was yummy!
We were met at the airport by Sue, the founder of IPR (International Primate Rescue), who drove us to the centre. Sue was immediately very welcoming and talked almost none stop for the whole hour long journey to Pretoria! We learnt lots about the placement and the monkeys before we got there and also heard a fair bit of gossip about past volunteers - one of them had set the previous centre on fire after 'finding' one of the monkeys dead!
When we arrived we were shattered and couldn't quite get our heads around the fact that it was 9 in the morning! So after we met the other volunteers who all seemed very friendly, we went for a sleep. When we woke up we were given a tour by one of the long-termers named Sarah. We met all 75 of the monkeys and were told a little about each of their stories and why they were at the rescue centre. There are 69 Marmoset monkeys, the majority of whom are at the centre because they have become aggressive or it is feared that they will in the future. - If Marmoset monkeys are hand reared they miss out on learning vital patterns and behaviours from their parents which means that when they reach sexual maturity there is a very high chance that they will become aggressive. As monkeys are extremely popular pets in SA this is fast becoming a huge problem.
In addition to the Marmosets there are also 3 Squirrel monkeys and 3 Mona monkeys. The Mona monkeys are financially the most valuable as a result of their size, and are poached from the wild to be taken into the pet trade. One of the Mona's called Pappy is terrified of any men as a result of being poached - when he was a baby his whole family was murdered in front of him so he could be sold as a pet! :(
The House and bedrooms were extremely basic - the bedrooms were cold concrete rooms with beds - but we got used to it very quickly, even not having hot water! (we didn't shower for far too long!) and it soon became our home for the next three weeks.
The duties, which included everything monkey and people orientated, were shared out on a rota system. Morning feed started at 5:45am and dinner wash-up was usually around 9pm. The rota was almost always fairly worked out so that, for example, if you were on morning feed you wouldn't be on am wash-up (which was a MAMMOTH job!).
When we first started working at IPR we were surprisingly confident with the monkeys - despite their scratchy, nippy tendencies! - but we thought we'd never get to know them as individuals, there are so many of them and they all look so similar! (at first I even had trouble telling between the males n females!) but we did get to know a fair few very well! - Kieran got lip-smacked a lot by the boys :) and I braved it with hand feeding the 'Asbos' a few times! (the most aggressive monkeys) We also had a little group that we called 'The Grabbys' that we loved loads. One of them was called Howard, he was so playful! I played 'boo' with him so much that by the time I left he recognised me when he saw me coming near his enclosure and jumped into hiding position! - so cute! We also got lots of cuddles from a monkey called Goliath who was so sweet and when we went into his enclosure he just snuggled onto Kieran's lap for the whole time!
Apart from the beautiful monkeys, the people that we met at IPR really made our time there amazing! Sue, who is the founder of the charity is the most genuine, caring person ever! She is soo passionate about the monkeys and rarely talks about anything else :) everything she does is for them and that really made us happy to be there helping her out - I only wish we were rich enough to help her with everything she wants to do with the place! Reet and Sarah - the long-termers - were also lovely and again extremely passionate and genuinely caring! Also very importantly though they were lots of fun and we spent pretty much every evening drinking, playing cards and eating the yummiest chocolate! ( Cadbury's Marula & ice cream - why they don't sell this in England is beyond me! - they'd make a mint!).
On a whole we couldn't have asked for a better first volunteering experience! We learnt loads about monkeys, made some great and hopefully long-lasting friendships and learnt some excellent card games (spoons and s***head) thanks to 'the fountain of knowledge' Emily! We were really sad to leave after our three weeks there and definitely intend to go back when we can.
Oh and we've also planned a skiing trip with Emily, Reet, Sarah and Mike (the inspirational cook!) in December 2011 :)
Love to you all
Kieran & Sarah xx