The world of wild animals by Andrey Gudkov

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Mangrove paradize for chimpanzee

Chimpanzee (Pan Troglodytes) is, perhaps, the most known kind of humanoid primates out of nowadays living. It is object for numerous medical, biological, physiological experiences, other various scientific experiences. Chimpanzees are perfectly trained and in general, have kept set of similarities to human's behavior. And this is understandable; in fact, the chimpanzee is the closest human's relative among animals. Scientists have learned that DNAs of human being and chimpanzee are similar for more than 95%, and the remaining 5% determines all our differences with them. In the wild nature chimpanzees live in forests and savannas of Equatorial Africa. They are brought into the international Red Book and protected by the international nature protection organizations. As of today they are the most numerous of anthropoids living in the wild nature. However their number steadily decreases in the nature every year. They become an object of poaching capture with the purpose of selling and further keeping in captivity. But the main problem of quantity reduction is a destruction of their natural environment tropical forests. The national park Conkouati-Douli which is in Congo Republic in 180 km from Puent Nuara, at Gabon border, is one of few places where chimpanzee feel safe in a wild environment.

The road from business and port center of Congo Republic Puent Nuara up to the national park Conkouati takes more than six hours by car. A part of asphalted line passes along Atlantic Ocean coast up to the river Kuilu. Then there is absolute impassability, through savanna and a light forest, by rare African villages up to the ocean coast. We were lucky, there had been no rains for a couple of weeks already and the track was rather dry. There are five of us in a big jeep presented to the national park by Brigitte Bardot fund. At the wheel there is a fragile low elderly woman who tells us during the entire road about features of these places, the national park, a chimpanzee, complains on local population. Her name is Madame Aliette Jamar the national park's director, the one who stood behind its creation, self-denying and expressive as French. Passing by absolutely naked hills she suddenly brakes, turns around to us and says, showing around: “you see it?”

“What?”, we do not understand. “These hills”, she continues. “Yet last year it was a forest”, she is distressed, emotionally gesticulates and we continue a way. “This is how forests are protected in reality. They simply cut it down and burn on coal. What a barbarity”.

While we were driving we learned the complete history of the park. The National Park Conkouati-Douli was founded in 1991. Park's territory is approximately 500 thousand hectares. This is one of few places in Congo Republic where damp tropical forests Mayombe have been kept in a protogenic form. Among the animals dying out which live on this territory (besides the chimpanzee) are flat gorilla, mandrill, leopard, wood elephant and wide-headed crocodile. WCS (The Wildlife Conservation Society) operates the park.

This forest territory is framed by sparsely populated (1 person per square kilometer) open savanna which lasts up to Puent-Nuara itself. River Ngongo flows through park's territory carrying yellow waters to the Atlantic Ocean. In turn, some fine rivulets fall flowing into Ngongo, forming numerous lagoons and boggy sites. Three lakes, connected among themselves by channels, complete the picture. There are dense mangrove thrickets on lakes and rivers coasts, which make coast practically impassable. Islands of mangrove trees are located on the lakes. Several chimpanzee groups live on these islands. A few not numerous groups live in the forest itself. On park's territory there are two cordons the main one and another distant, auxiliary. It takes three hours by motorboat through channels and bog to reach the distant one. We were promised to see this cordon, and at the same time to acquaint with the nature of park.

For more than 10 years already the nongovernmental organization H.E.L.P. Congo has been working in the Park with primary goal to adapt sick and beaten off at poachers chimpanzees to conditions of the wild nature. Besides, employees of H.E.L.P. Congo are engaged in preservation of wild chimpanzee natural population, conduct active educational activity. 15 people from this organization work in park constantly. Volunteers from other countries come to help Madame Jamar to bring her programs into effect. Initially, Aliette Jamar was personally engaged in financing of this project by her own means. Such organizations as Brigitte Bardot Fund, WSPA, HUSUS, Human Society USA, Stirling University, SPA (Society for the Protection of Animals) joined later.

From 1996 to 2005 years 38 chimpanzees have been adapted to natural environment and released to the National Park. All of them adapt to the environment without special efforts and already live without human's help, independently obtaining livelihood and combating for a survival in the wild environment. Today 25 chimpanzees pass the adaptation program. Behind them constant supervision is conducted and the control over their state of health is carried out. 8 chimpanzee kids were born on the park's territory since 2001. Madame Jamar is happy enough with the story.

Chimpanzees live both on the ground and on trees. They are active during daytime. Normally they keep groups from 2 up to 20 individuals. Animals communicate among themselves by means of various sounds, mimicry and gestures. The behavior is complex that testifies high mental abilities of chimpanzee in comparison to other animals. They eat basically vegetation, and also various animals. Chimpanzee on a regular basis use instruments while getting food. Chimpanzee becomes capable to duplication at the age of 10-12 years. Life expectancy is about 40 years. Arms are much longer than legs. Hands have long fingers, but the first finger is small. Footsteps have the first finger big, between other fingers there are skin membranes. Auricles are large, similar to human ones, an upper lip is high, a nose is small. Skin on a face and back surfaces of hands and footsteps are wrinkled. Wool is black; both genders have white hair grow on chin. Body skin is light, but on a face of different kinds its color varies. An average body temperature is 37.2 C.
Already in complete darkness we drove on Conkouati territory. A few Africans appeared in headlights park workers and young Frenchman called Chamaye. We helped to unload equipment and foods. We were got to small wooden houses for 3 persons, having agreed, that we would meet tomorrow at 7 in the morning on the big open terrace, which simultaneously serves as kitchen and dining room. There is no electricity, generator was broken and we were preparing to sleep practically by touch. It is a little stuffy. But this is not the greatest problem. In complete silence we hear a squeak gradually developing into an importunate rumble. With horror we understand that we have to fight mosquitoes, hordes of which are already waiting for their time with impatience. The fight takes an hour more. Kicks shake plywood walls of the small house. But as forces are initially unequal we go to bed beaten.

At late night we wake up from single heart-rending shout which is heard somewhere very near, then goes somewhere in a black depth of the forest, then moves to the right and to the left, then heard from above, almost upper the small house. Shout turns to be laughter, then to sharp high sounds. One more adds to it, then more and more. Through any time all this cacophony sharply dies away. Till the morning we do not sleep. We have small talk in half-voices.

Early in the morning we went down on a verandah. A few people were already there. Boxes with various fruits, sweet potato, bottles with a dairy children's mix stood nearby. Chamaye explains that now we shall go on islands to lure chimpanzees. "All these are their breakfast", he shows on boxes. “There will be a kid with mum. They are so amusing. We shall swim up absolutely close. If you do not make sharp movements, mummy will not get worried. So there is a sense to take your camera”. We ask him a question about night shouts. Chamaye flourishes arms: “Nothing special. Wild chimpanzees communicate to relatives on islands. Such concerts are not rare and we have got used to”.

We load everything in a boat. Me, Chamaye and one more African from the park's personnel float on a lagoon on a small motor boat to its very center where on big mangrove island small chimpanzee family lives mum with the kid and two males. All chimpanzees have names the kid is Quentin, mummy is Gin, daddy is Pepe, etc. The chimpanzees know the names and respond to them. Having heard a motor sound, the chimpanzees come to excitation. They are waiting for meal. Gin sits at the water edge with the kid, both males nervously move upwards-downwards along boughs, quacking now and then.

On shoaliness Chamaye with the employee jumps into water. I help them to unload boxes with meal. The chimpanzees recognize their breadwinners. A dialogue between animals and humans has begun. Firstly the chimpanzees were given fruits, and then they independently were taking meal from boxes. My occurrence has been apprehended calmly though occasionally mum glanced to my side. The feeding took for about an hour.

The second portion of meal was intended for a larger group of 12 chimpanzees, settled down on the other end of the lagoon, along coast, on mangrove trees. We stay a bit longer at these chimpanzees. Chamaye allows me to work quite enough. Chimpanzees somersault on trees, making acrobatic tricks, make faces to each other, try to take away food from each other, making short fights. Some rest phlegmatically, not paying any attention to what is happening around. Some drinks with pleasure this advanced prepared dairy mix from a plastic bottle, savoring each drink. It is a mini model of human society: same relations, same emotions. There is no need to search for story for shooting. It is just in front of me. Some chimpanzees behave like posing and do it willingly, as though speaking: “Shoot me; I am the most beautiful here”. Shootings will proceed for several days, bringing its small surprises.

When food ends, chimpanzees cease to pay attention to us, gradually moving in the depth of mangrove forest. The forest, where nothing threatens them, where there are no traps and cages, where there are no poachers. Where they feel as safe as ate home. Their small mangrove paradise.

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to translator Irina Kharakterova for qualified texts translation.