Chimpanzee Eden - Nelspruit

February 08, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Usually on Sundays we are up early and out the door trying to find something to do, not this Sunday, we woke up late and almost didn’t go anywhere. It has been crazy since coming back to Swaziland from being at home for 2 weeks, I swear it has been hard and almost depressing, I am sure I have said this already at least once (or twice) but it is the truth. Anyway after slowly getting up and going we decided to just ride to Nelspruit and sight see, we have been wanting to try to catch the tour at the Jane Goodall Chimpanzee Eden, so we knew that we would find something to do in that area. We put on our “safari” gear, got our camera gear ready, a few bottles of water and hit the road. The journey was the same beautiful route as always when we go to Nelspruit. I can never get enough of the scenery; the mountains go on as far as your eyes can see and they look as if they touch the clouds. In pictures it is hard to get the total view of layer and layer of the mountainous terrain. It almost looks as if we are high enough in the sky to just “pop” on of the clouds. We made the 2 and a half hour journey without incident or “causalities” (another post topic), and we made it in time to do the last tour of the day at Chimpanzee Eden. I was so excited because Justin and I love all types of primates and I have a great respect for the Chimpanzees, after all they are our closet relative, right?...

So we knew this was going to be a great experience for us.

Upon arriving you have to sign a consent and read the information sheets, they have a restaurant and a souvenir shop. The guides and staff were amazingly friendly and sweet. As we start the tour at 2pm we had a group that had a couple with their daughter (maybe 10) and 2 ladies with us. You walk about 40 steps from where you meet up with the group and the guide, you walk up to an enclosure that is electrified and the guide grabs a metal bowl as she is standing on a stump and begins tells us the do’s and don’ts and she also warn us about Cozie who throws things and is in the other fenced area. She makes a few comments that we don’t understand – about her seeing expensive cameras going in but not coming out, or having your limbs and groins ripped off – I almost wanted to turn around at this point and I am worried about having a child on this tour but we continue on anyway. The guide goes on to talk about us as consumers and the dangers that we pose to the chimpanzee population because they are becoming endangered. After a few minutes of talking she starts calling out names and throwing ice, peppers and butternut squash and you see these amazing animals come from around the corner. I am standing there in awe watching these magnificent creatures, they are so smart and curious and you can see it by looking into their eyes. As I am standing there I am recalling the years that my kids were growing up and every vacation since they were little had to be based around their love of animals… so it was always animal parks, animal research, animal attractions, aquariums, museums, etc... So I have read enough stories and been to enough rescue facilities to know how strong and aggressive they can be and stay back a little. I feel a false sense of security because of the electric fence and I start to stay near the front to watch these animals interact with each other. The guide explains the family dynamics of this group, she talks about each monkey and where they came from. Unfortunately these animals were rescued or surrendered to the institute and all came from bad situations. Some were dressed in clothing and treated like a child until they showed sign of natural animal behaviors and were discarded like a broken toy, others were captured while their families were being murdered and served up on plates in countries where superstitions are rampant and some actually came from zoo’s that could or would no longer care for the animals.

After watching the first group for a little while guide tells us to follow her, to stay close and if for some reason we have to leave she will call up for someone to come get us. We walk around the chain link electrified fence and the chimpanzees are coming out to see who and what is in their territory and a few literally walk with us around the enclosure almost like they are making sure that we don’t get too close and one continues to throw nuts or rocks at the fence as we are walking by. This made me wonder if they were trying to warn us, scare us, or test the fence???. Once we are on the other side we walk up onto a platform that has a mesh fence and the guide tells us about more about Cozie and explains that the mesh is to prevent Cozie’s throws from making contact with our heads. We see Cozie throw a few sticks, another one uses a stick to retrieve food that has fallen behind the fence and 2 others groom each other. Several times while we are there we hear them make their primal screaming sounds and it is terrifying to say the least but amazing as well. After a few minutes the chimps start making their way back to the cover of the trees because it is one hot day, and we hear screaming (monkey screaming) off in the distances at the other enclosure and the guide tells us it is a fight but nothing to be worried about and it is broken up before we can even make out which monkeys are mad.

At about 3 pm the guide tells us that it’s time for the monkeys to go in for the night (its only 3?) and we are escorted back to the entrance. This makes me wonder…are they really put up that early, what do they do all evening? In the wild they wouldn’t be going to bed this early…They are kept inside at night according to our guide and she explains this by saying that they are afraid of the electrical storms at night. She also explains why Chimps are not good “pets” and how they should be wild, but unfortunately they can never put these monkeys back into the wild because according to her, a new law passed saying that monkeys released in to the wild have to go back to the countries that they came from. Well these monkeys have been born all over the world basically and being in the institute they are now a family unit so they shouldn’t be separated.

I don’t know which story was worse in either group but in the second group we heard about the 70-year-old monkey that was at a zoo and came to the institute not having interaction with other monkeys but the group had accepted and respected him or the story of Cozie that was a research monkey from the states and had mental issues because of the research that he had been under and after they were done using and testing him they SOLD him to a couple who dressed him up like a kid but once the husband died the wife was too afraid of him to properly care for him and left him in the cage at all times until the institution rescued him. Only then were the jeans that he had on from where the HUSBAND dressed him before he had passed, THREE years earlier. They were so tight from where he grew into them that his hips and waist were extremely small in comparison to his body size.

I was happy with the tour, as well as the guides and before we left we bought some souvenirs to take back to the states with us. We drove around trying to find our next stop but I had so many questions in my head from the tour and was actually happy that we ended up getting lost and it was too late to see anything else (everything closes early); so we headed home. The entire ride home we were discussing monkeys, and that was just fine by me.

All in all it was a really good day.

Once we got home I was looking on Pinterest to find a picture of Chimpanzee Eden so that I could add it to my “places that I have been” board. I seen a story about an attack at the institution; of course I had to read it and ruin my opinion of the place.

Justin and I get into a good debate and conversation about this facility, the attack and other places that I have been that are similar to it. The article in a way blamed the young guide who was basically destroyed and defended their purpose and security methods at the facility. My understanding to what I read was that the young guide was doing a tour or came back afterwards and seen a chimp trying to get a rock from under the fence, so he went to move the rock and they grabbed his foot and drug him under the fence, he was being electrocuted while the chimps were ignoring the surge of electricity and continued until he was in their enclosure or they were outside of there’s (not really sure) but none the less they continued to beat him, ripped off an arm, ear, fingers, toes and did some damage to his groins (this is why she made the comment in the tour); he barely escaped with his life and was saved by the manager shooting and chasing the monkeys back into their enclosure.

For me I don’t care whether or not he made a poor judgment call because as a manager or researcher or activist for these animals YOU know their strengths better than anyone, you are in charge of the facility and you are taking the lives of your staff and your animals into your hands… so the security of the facility for both the chimps and the humans is of the utmost importance. Are the warnings to the public enough. I think about a sign they had posted, it said basically, if there is an escape chimpanzee go to the nearest chimpanzee proof building – which is the restaurant but if you are at the second enclosure go under the platform – is that enough, could you escape a running jumping angry chimpanzee? Do these guides carry tranquilizer guns or guns? There should have been no way that the chimps can scrape under the fence to retrieve a rock or a LEG, there should be no way that this happened at all. I was disappointed at the fact that the article sounded like it blamed this guy, yes maybe he made a poor decision and got too close but is it that easy for them to hurt the staff and visitors? Yes we were instructed not to go close and I am sure the staff is highly educated on this, but maybe the guy was afraid that if that monkey got the rock he could throw it at the visitors and injure someone, himself or the fencing causing them to escape. With these animals history they probably have issues with certain people, smells, colors etc and if something triggers them to become so aggressive that even the fencing is not going to stop them.  From the article they state that the fence is not going to do much, that the animals were paying it no mind and had no fear of its powers. It also said that they were trying to rehabilitate these animals to go back into the wild and I started thinking about that as well; how can they go back into the wild when you have them caged up in less than an acre of fenced land, you throw them food as if they were still circus animals, you call them by their names, you put them up inside at night to sleep. I’m not an expert by any means but I think that you can’t have it both ways they are either going to be wild or show animals. If you want these animals to be “wild” and rehabilitate them to be released into the “wild” then why wouldn’t you shut off most contact with humans, not show them off to the public by coaxing them to the fence with food, give them more land, build a bigger better parameter and let people view them from afar without interaction. I was thinking about the zoos that I have taken my kids too and they have structures like cement enclosures that the monkeys can’t climb up and “viewing” windows or areas for the public but there is no interaction, no public feeding and these animals are “wild” or at least more wild than the ones at this facility. At the same time you can have these animals as “show” animals in an almost wild state where you want them to form a family and be their natural selves; because they will be territorial, they will show their aggressiveness and people will be hurt.

After we debated the good and bad of the article and incident, I found ANOTHER attack a few years after the first one that I read about. It was the same 2 chimps, the person was surveying the fencing to make sure of its integrity and she got attacked; again one monkey wasn’t injured or stopped by the electric fence the other one was slightly halted by it.  This time the article didn’t blame the person but did want people to understand where these monkeys have come from and why they are being aggressive. Again I get that these animals are naturally wild, aggressive, strong and smart; I get that you saved them from a horrible situation but what good are you doing to them if you are allowing them to hurt themselves and humans? Are we causing them more damage by keeping them “caged” and “shown”? I remembered the guide telling us how one of the other staff members was teaching one of the chimps to paint and how they are so smart so they try to keep them entertained. Again isn’t that mixed messages to these animals that you are trying to give back to the wild? Do they think they are attacking the “visitors” who could be harming their family / “guards”. I know that the guide said that they were no longer a rescue, rehabilitate and release center because of the new law so what is the purpose of the facility now – just a rescue center, a studying facility, a tourist attraction, or a home until they pass on? What have they done to prevent future acts of violence toward staff or visitors? Looking back to our day I felt like the one that was throwing stones or nuts at the fence was “testing” the fence, Cozie is an accident waiting to happen since there is no alpha in that group, none recognize him and he already throws things at the visitors. So my question I guess is are we doing the right thing by these animals at places like this?

These animals need the acknowledgement and the help as they are being killed off/dying off/pushed out by so many different factors. Chimps are our closest relatives, they are so smart, strong and in a lot of ways better than us. I was telling my husband that yes Lions scare me to death and could kill you in an instant but I am more afraid and have more respect for Chimpanzees; think about it a chimpanzee is as smart as us in some ways, they use tools, they study and test something until they figure it out, they can run at high speeds, jump higher than us, climb, swing, and have undeniable strength that can tear you apart. The only thing you could hope for if being attacked by a chimpanzee is finding a lake or river because they can’t swim!

The fact that this center rescues these animals is so awesome and do not get me wrong I think that this place does amazing work and these animals lives were saved. From everything that I have read, Miss Goodall is one of the most outspoken, educated and good-hearted people who truly loves what she is doing with these animals. She knows them better than probably anyone so I am pretty sure she believes in these tours and these centers and what they teach, so I am not saying anything bad. I also think about safari’s and other places where you are putting yourself into some sort of danger risk, so is this place any different from those places? Being there just left me with a lot of unanswered questions and my opinion is undecided, so maybe a trip back to the Eden would be a good idea and maybe ask the questions that I have. I am not downing the facility or its work at all I am just wondering out loud about places like this, should they be for show to the public in this matter, is it safe for the animals or humans? I will do my part and help facilities like this and the animals as well by watching what I purchase and by donating when I can. Please do not take this as an attack on these sanctuaries, I suggest visiting them and making your own opinion. Do your research and if you can donate time, energy or items to centers like this. I plan to return and I will always support the good that these type of facilities do!


Interesting Facts to Consider:

Chimpanzees are our closet relatives, they share 98% of our genetic make up.

Chimps can run approximately 25 miles per hour (the current world running record for a human is 27 mph)

They are very social, like humans and can experience forms of depression when they are lonely.

Chimpanzees usually walk on all four limbs but can be taught or can learn by mimicking to walk upright.

They use tools to help with their daily lives.

Chimpanzees ARE an ENDANGERED species!!!! The main reason: hunting/poachers, habitat destruction, logging and disease.

Jane Goodall is one of the best primate researchers and activist (my opinion).




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