Category Archives: Felix Lankester

New management team

It’s been a while since the last blog, but that doesn’t mean that nothing has happened at the Limbe Wildlife Centre. On the contrary, it has been a very busy month. Last week we had to say goodbye to Felix Lankester, who has been the manager for 5 years. His presence will be missed, but the results of his work will benefit the LWC for many years to come: a great veterinary team in a well equipped vet room / laboratory, an incredible chimpanzee enclosure, a properly trained and well organised staff, etc. But although the LWC has grown in many ways in the last years, there is still a lot of work to be done.

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I am honoured to have taken over the manager’s position from Felix and I am looking forward to work on the further developments that are necessary to live up to the high standards we have set for ourselves. I would like to introduce to you the new assistant project manager: Anne Sofie Meilvang. Sofie comes from Danmark and is a biologist with experience in conservation education. I am looking forward to working with her and hope she will have just as much fun in her job as I have had in the past years. Together we will work on the further integration of our chimpanzees in the new Born Free chimpanzee enclosure, the building of a guenon enclosure, the expansion of our education program and all the other plans we have. We will keep you informed on this blog.

Simone de Vries

Project Manager

The ‘Taiping’ gorillas move in to their new enclosure: Limbe Wildlife Centre: Felix Lankester

 The famous western lowland gorillas, known as the ‘Taiping gorillas’, who were returned to Cameroon from South Africa a year ago continue to keep everyone at the Limbe Wildlife Centre extremely busy.   The integration with the resident gorillas at the LWC did not go as well as was hoped and in recent months, whilst the resident gorillas have remained healthy, they have suffered repeated bouts of sickness.  It was apparent that stress was a probable factor in their ill health and in order to relieve this stress it became clear that the gorillas needed their own space in which to live.  However this posed us with a conundrum: with no land available in the grounds of the LWC to build on how were we going to create a new enclosure in which they could peacefully live?  Additionally time was of the essence yet the building of a new enclosure is typically measured in years, not weeks, and with their deteriorating health we felt that we needed to make a change and soon.   Fortunately we were just coming to the end of a three year construction project to build a new chimpanzee enclosure and so the decision was taken to move one whole group of chimpanzees into this new enclosure ahead of schedule.  The plan being that the vacating chimpanzees would leave behind an old enclosure space which, with some rapid renovations, could be transformed into a dedicated gorilla enclosure.   

Work began in October and in a matter of days the roof was rebuilt, walls knocked down, mesh panels welded, a pool built and new gorilla strength climbing structures erected.  Transforming, what was an old chimpanzee enclosure, into a newly refurbished home for gorillas.

Once work was completed we planned to move the three Taiping gorillas plus another young male, called Arno, who had also had problems integrating into the LWC resident group.  Additionally the infant Adjibolo, who had been fostered on to the female Taiping gorilla Abbey, would join the group.  The only problem was how to get the gorillas in to their new home.   Typically when moving large animals from one enclosure to another we have to anaesthetise them so that they can be carried whilst asleep.  However this can be very stressful especially when the animals have been sick.  Therefore we devised an audacious plan whereby the gorillas to be moved were encourage to ‘escape’ out of their enclosure and into their new home by means of a thick rope that was placed over the 4 metre high wall separating the two enclosures. 

 gorilla rope tied in place at Limbe Wildlife Centre

The first concern was how we could entice the gorillas to climb the new mystery rope:  to encourage them we recruited the LWC’s Head Keeper, Jonathan Kang, who climbed the rope a few times in full view of all the gorillas keenly watching what was going on from the night house.  We hoped that, having seen Jonathan disappear over the wall, they would follow him over curious to find out where he had gone.

 

The second problem was preventing the gorillas from simply climbing back in to the old enclosure from where they had come.  To solve this we tied the far end of the rope to a fixed climbing structure in the new enclosure, leaving the near end unattached dangling over the wall in the old enclosure.  Once in their new home, if the gorillas tried to climb back over the wall they would simply pull the unattached end of the rope on top of themselves. 

  Jonathan Kang climbs the wall; Limbe Wildlife Centre; gorilla move

The big day arrived, the rope had been placed, Jonathan had done his show and all that remained was to selectively let out from the night house only those gorillas that were to be transferred.  The sliding doors were opened and as soon as the gorillas were let out they all tentatively approached the mystery rope.  Like a bunch of school boys daring each other to see who was the bravest they tested the rope, climbing a few metres and then jumping back down.  After a few attempts, however, the young male Arno finally reached the top.

Limbe Wildlife Centre

gorillas climb rope; Limbe Wildlife Centre

Now sitting on the dividing wall he could see how the rope led into an interesting looking place filled with Aframomum melegueta plants strewn about enticingly.  Gorillas love to eat this plant and so, perhaps buoyed by his success so far, Arno carried on down the rope and in to his new home.  Encouraged by Arno the females, watching below, soon followed him over the wall.  The plan had worked. 

Taiping gorillas in new enclosure at Limbe Wildlife Centre, Cameroon

Within an hour all the gorillas except one, the nervous young male ‘Izan, had successfully transferred themselves by escaping in to their new home, saving themselves the stress of an anesthetic dart. 

 

One week later I can report that all of the gorillas have settled into their new home and are now able to go outside every single day, as opposed to every other day which was the case in the old enclosure.   We shall see in the coming months what impact having their own dedicated enclosure space, away from the attention of the other gorillas, will have on their long-term health.  We now hope that they will settle in to their new home and that this will be the last move that these well travelled gorillas will need to make for quite a while. 

The care of the all of the gorillas at the LWC is an ongoing concern for all at the project.  Funding is always needed to pay for their food, medical and enclosure costs and any assistance with these continual costs will be greatly appreciated.

Thank you for your help.

Felix Lankester

  

African grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus) seizure in Cameroon update: Felix Lankester

The aftermath of the seizure of 1227 African grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus) from Douala Airport, Cameroon, back in December 2007 is still consuming much of our time and resources.  Despite having released over 900 parrots back into the wild, we still have approximately 100 birds left.  Back in February 2008, with assistance from the World Parrot Trust, we removed the damaged wing feathers from hundreds of parrots and of these approximately 200 have successfully re-grown their feathers and have been released in to the forests around Limbe.  The remaining 100 birds have not yet re-grown their feathers and are still living with us at the Limbe Wildlife Centre.  Some of these birds may never re-grow their damaged feathers and will remain flightless, whilst others, we hope, will eventually recover their feathers and will be able to fly off.   

African grey parrots

african grey parrots emerging from the crates  The plan now is to build these remaining parrots an open-top enclosure surrounding a mango tree into which they can climb and live freely.  Any parrots that are able to fly will be able to fly off into neighbouring trees, thereby strengthening their flight muscles in preparation for the time when they will be able to freely choose to fly off.  Whilst other parrots, whose feathers have not re-grown, will live in the mango tree, free to climb in and out of their home using ladders that will be placed in the tree.   We will continue to provision the parrots with food, and treat them medically when necessary, and it is for this that we are seeking financial assistance.  Currently it is costing approximately $450/month paying for food and medical costs for the parrots and any donations towards these costs would help enormously.     

Please do return to this blog as we will soon post pictures illustrating the progress of the construction of the Mango Tree Parrot Enclosure. 

Thank you, Felix Lankester

African grey parrots, Limbe, Cameroon

The ‘witch bird’ at the Limbe Wildlife Centre, Cameroon: Felix Lankester

The Limbe Wildlife Centre, Cameroon, focuses predominantly on the rescue and rehabilitation of endangered primate species, like western lowland gorillas and the drill monkey.  However we also often rescue non-primate species, like reptiles and birds and other small mammal species.  Many of these species tend to be solitary animals whose behaviour is fairly instinctual and consequently returning them to the wild when they are healthy is less complicated than it is with primates.   In 2008 we have rescued and released dwarf crocodiles, African rock pythons, black kites, genet cats, palm civets and African civet cats, land tortoises, and 1227 African grey parrots to name a few.   

Earlier this year a fledgling owl was brought in to the LWC by members of the French Army who have a base nearby.  The owl was a Fraser’s eagle owl (Bubo poensis) and it’s left eye was extremely swollen, closed and bruised.  The army cadets had rescued the bird from some children who had been throwing stones at it.  Locally, and in many other parts of the world, owls are associated with witchcraft and as a consequence people are frightened of them and tend to try to kill them if they see one.   

We took the owl in and placed it on treatment and waited for the swelling in the eye to reduce.  After a few days the swelling had reduced sufficiently for the eyelids to open and at this point we could assess the damage to the eye.  Using an opthalmoscope it was clear that the damage was permanent as the retina had become detached from the back of the eye.  Owl’s hunt using their hearing but also rely on sight to guide them through the trees as they fly and only having one good eye would severely handicap this owl in the wild.  Consequently we decided that we would not be able to release it.   

This posed us with a dilemma of what to do with the young owl:  keep him in a cage for the rest of its life or euthanase it?  Not great choices.  Luckily, however, we came up with a third option:  to try to train the owl to fly to the fist in the hope that we could use him for displays whilst educating visitors about owls, how they live and hunt, and how they are not witches in disguise!  At this point, as the owl was to stay, we gave him a name and the obvious choice was Fraser.  

So for the past 5 months our quarantine keeper, Killi Matute and an English ornithologist, Robbie Whytock, have been working together to train Fraser.  The process is quite complicated but Robbie has a lot of experience training raptors and under his guidance Killi and Fraser have slowly developed a very intimate relationship.  Killi sets traps at night to catch mice and rats and then during the day he chops them in to bite sized pieces, weighs them, and at 1pm feeds approx. 25grams of meat to Fraser.  The amount fed each day has to be carefully calculated as if Killi feeds him too little he will lose weight, and if he feeds too much he will not want to fly the next day. It’s an interesting balance and its only through careful daily calculations made by weighing the food fed and judging how Fraser responds each day that Killi has been able to finally estimate what Fraser’s preferred daily ration should be.  Each day since the training began little by little Fraser has become more comfortable sitting on Killi’s fist, feeding from his hand, flying to his fist in a cage, flying to his fist outside with a string attached to his jesse (leather straps attached to his feet), to finally, this week, flying outside to Killi’s fist without a string attached.   

Killi Matute and the Fraser’s eagle owl he rehabilitated and trained

Last weekend Fraser and Kill had their first display in front of a crowd of local children and visiting government dignitaries.  The response that Killi received when he appeared with a ‘witch bird’ on his hand that flew at his command was quite incredible.  However before anybody began to think that Killi was himself a wizard, we described how and why Fraser came to be living at the LWC, how vulnerable owls are and how they deserve protection not persecution.   

The impact was remarkable and Fraser’s story really underlines how at the LWC we try to extract the maximum conservation value from each and every animal that is unfortunate enough to need rescuing.   I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Robbie Whytock for his expertise in training Killi and Fraser.  A great job well done! 

Felix Lankester

Thank you to our readers:

March and April were very busy months for us all at the LWC and we were not able to update this blog as often as we would have like to have done. However despite this our readers have continued to generously support our ongoing work. Many thanks to Theresa S, Lucia C, Muriel T and Judd O’s who all made donations. A special thanks to the Animal Divulgation Trust (Italy) who made another donation of $250, and a huge thank you to Peter F. who dug very deep and pledged $750.

Thank you to everyone. Its nice to know that people are out there reading the blog.

Best wishes,

Felix Lankester and Simone de Vries.

Lada and Banyo in the nursery chimp enclosure

Thank you to our donors:

As always we are very grateful for all the donations that we have received through this blog site. Recently Muriel T. and Lucia C. have made donations to assist us with the costs of caring for Bolo. Thank you both very much for this help. I would also like to take this opportunity to make a special mention to Theresa S. who has made several one-off donations as well as committing to a regular monthly donation to our various causes (parrot rehabilitation, Bolo’s care etc.). Theresa, I know you are aware, but your donations are extremely important to us and we really appreciate the generousness of your repeated kindness.

The LWC appreciates all of the donations received and is humbled by the support.

Best wishes,

Felix Lankester

thank you for your donations:

Thank you to Rosemary L., Clizia P., Barbara M. and John S. who have all donated much needed funds to help with our ongoing costs with the African grey parrot saga and the new infant gorilla ‘Bolo’. With all that is going on we are really stretched at the moment financially (and for time!) and receiving your donations is a real shot in the arm to us all.
Many thanks,
Felix

Thank you for the donations:

Thank you very much to George S. and Bruce D. for the generous donations that they made on this Wildlife Direct website. The LWC’s monthly running costs (feed, medicines, enclosure repair etc.) have been rising year in year out as we receive more animals and as the apes that we have hand reared over the years all get bigger. As such we are extremely grateful for this financial assistance. Thank you for your support.

answer to your questions:

Hi all,

thank you for making comments on the LWC’s new site. It is great to know that there are people out there reading our profile and keen to know more. In answer to your question, Xavier, Limbe is very safe to visit and is really easy to get to. It is only 1.5hrs drive from the nearest international airport, Douala, and the town and surrounding area are very safe. Limbe, a bustling fishing port, is within the Mount Cameroon ecosystem, that boasts one of the highest levels of biodiversity in Africa (IUCN 1972). However this precious ecosystem is under threat from the high human population density of this coastal region. As such the LWC finds itself very well placed on the front line of conservation, at the interface between fragile ecosystems and a growing human population. Consequently we place a lot of emphasis on conservation education, utilising the captive wild animals at the LWC as ambassadors for their species. The responses that we get from local people who visit our project (over 30,000/year) and from the schools that we visit are very positive, with most people being very receptive to the idea that their forest ecosystems need to be protected for future generations. However creating conservation results from simple enthusiasm is the challenge that we now face. The future of the Cameroonian rainforests depend on how successful we are!

Also in response to your request I am uploading some photos of our drills: The drill (Mandrillus leucophaeus) is one of the most endangered primate species in Africa, with current estimates reckoning that there are only 3,000 to 6,000 left in the wild. The LWC, which is situated within the natural range of this species, has the second largest captive breeding group of drills in the world and hopes one day to be able to release many of them back into the wild. The largest breeding group are found in the LWC and the Pandrillus Foundation’s sister project Drill Ranch in Nigeria.

Saving Wildlife in Cameroon

felix-lankester-500.jpgMe, performing vetly duties

What we are about

The Limbe Wildlife Centre is a rescue, rehabilitation and release project situated in the South West Province of Cameroon, on the edge of the small fishing town of Limbe, within the Mount Cameroon ecosystem; an ecosystem that, it has been unofficially reported, boasts the second highest levels of biodiversity in Africa. Forest elephant, chimpanzees, drill monkeys, red-eared guenons, and Preuss’s guenons are a few of the endangered species that can be found on the slopes of Mount Cameroon.

However despite this high level of biodiversity and local endemism the entire area of the Mount Cameroon ecosystem has no legal protected status and suffers from illegal logging and high levels of poaching for the bush meat trade that is currently ravaging West and Central African rainforests. In Cameroon the level of trade in bush meat is especially high and, as more and more animals are hunted and removed from their forest homes, the state of ‘empty forest syndrome’ has been coined to describe many of its forests.

Contrary to popular belief however the bush meat trade does not simply enable poor local people to eat protein. Rather much of the meat is smuggled to, and sold in, large cities, such as Lagos, Yaoundé, Johannesburg and even London, as a delicacy for those wealthy enough to be able to afford it. Linked with the bush meat trade is the illegal pet trade, whereby the infant chimpanzees, gorillas and other primate species, that are too small to have a value as a meat source are, having watched their entire families being killed for meat, sold as pets.

The LWC’s very existence is as a direct result of these illegal trades:

Firstly the LWC provides a solution to the problem of what can be done with the infant primates, and other wild animal species, when they are lucky enough to be seized from criminal traders by customs, police or conservation officials. In doing so the LWC supports and encourages the enforcement of the wildlife laws of Cameroon. Without such support the confiscating agencies would soon tire of prosecuting wildlife crime as they would have nowhere to place the animals which they seize.

The LWC provides a sanctuary for these seized individuals, placing them in family groups within enclosures that have outdoor spaces and extensive climbing structures. In doing so the long process of rehabilitation is begun, with a long term goal of the animals being returned to the wild should suitable forest homes be found.

The second aim of the LWC is the utilization of the captive animals as a tool to drive conservation education programs for the local communities. Currently the LWC has three strands within its education program:

  1. Saturday Nature’s Club held weekly at the LWC for primary and secondary school students.
  2. School Outreach Program – the LWC education team visits local schools and sets up Conservation Clubs, that meet on a weekly basis.
  3. Conservation Workshops – each year the LWC hosts conservation workshops, lasting 2 to 3 days.

Living at the LWC

Despite being home to numerous species of endangered wildlife, including duikers, vipers and tortoises, the primary focus of the LWC is the protection of Cameroon’s many endangered species of primate.

Residents include the critically endangered drill monkey (Leucophaeus mandrillus), the critically endangered vellerosus chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes vellerosus), the endangered western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla), the critically endangered Cross-River gorilla (G.g.diehli), and several endangered species of guenon and mangabey including the locally endemic and endangered Preuss’s guenon (Cercopithecus preussi).

The Gorilla Enclosure

gorilla-enclosure-cropped-500.jpg