Great Ape Diaries Gets Social – Media


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social media

Launching Great Ape Diaries Social Media Network

Before trekking into the wilds of Borneo and Sumatra to bring you the latest on orangutans, their habitat and the people invested in their future, we have been immersing ourselves in the cyber-world of social media – and we think we have created enough ways for all of you to follow us – regardless of your social network bias. Here’s how to follow us:

and if you don’t want to check all those sources have us in one neat digital package: 

  • Great Ape Daily – need to focus your time – subscribe to GA Daily a great aggregate digital newspaper that shows up on your computer or pad highlighting all we have tweeted, blogged and FB’d in the past 24 hours

Live postings begin Feb. 6, 2012 from Borneo

We look forward to bringing you an amazing story about great apes, us and our planet!


Save the Apes and You Save the Forests


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That’s the headline that came blazing across my in-box a few mornings ago. “Save the Apes and You Save the Forests” wow, you would think in the second decade of the 21st Century this would be a no-brainer?

clear cut Bornean rainforest

Clear cut Bornean (Sabah) rainforest making way for palm oil plantation

As I ply through final logistics for the upcoming Borneo-Sumatra trip I often have the online radio streaming in the background. Occasionally a word, a soundbite filters through and I focus my attention on the words for a few minutes. I find myself inevitably scratching my head in disbelief at the rhetoric pouring from the lips of people in positions of power. People we generally count on for enlightened thinking, ya know, the folks that asked for our vote because they were confident they could govern well and responsibly, and folks that make and sell us stuff we need, the ones that run companies asking for our consumer support because they were confident they could produce well and responsibly.

Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney are both bad news for climate change fight

Ian Redmond is quoted in a recent Jakarta Globe article, “The hope is that there will be a realization that forests are not just an ornamental part of our planet, but that they are integral to the function of our biosphere and future survival,”  Redmond is a tropical field biologist and conservationist, renowned for his work with great apes. He is now Chief Consultant for GRASP – UNEP/ UNESCO Great Apes Survival Partnership he helped launch in 2001. I respect Redmond for pointing that out, but that seems the problem, we are repeatedly pointing that out. Imagine the atmospheric carbon we could reduce if scientists and conservationists such as Ian Redmond didn’t have to continue trying to fill the airspace between climate change denials by politicians and corporate execs?

One of our central goals with Great Ape Diaries is to connect the global great ape dots. We plan to do so in as many and unique ways as we can – social media, huge outdoor public print displays, webcasts, youtube channels, radio, public speaking, you name it. So people, folks of every persuasion, begin to think about our Hominid role on this planet.

We have lofty goals for this project. Great Ape Diaries will be an unprecedented perspective on ape life even if only because it avoids a stereotypic natural history look at apes while bringing viewers closer to seeing them in a grander and comprehensive global scheme.  And while the project will necessarily enjoy and utilize the experiences of famous researchers and ape conservationists to provide context, the one critical aspect that sets Great Ape Diaries apart from all previous work will be the focus on telling the story through the eyes, perspectives, and passion of the people who live and work with apes, in situ, mostly out of sight of the rest of the world.  These folks are stakeholders, people critical to the long-term survival of great apes in the wild, will include trackers, anti-poaching patrols, ape orphanage staff, native researchers, farmers, poachers, rangers, veterinarians, and park guides.

We hope by connecting the Hominid groups – them and us – to our collective needs and issues, people will understand “Save the Apes and You Save the Forests” AND you save us and everything else.

You can read the full Save the Apes and You Save the Forests story from the Jakarta Globe here.

Also worth reading Great ape conservation must be integral to REDD+, says leading primate biologist

Reading & Reviews: Walking With The Great Apes


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walking with the great apesWe have decided to share books, films and major publication we are reading and re-reading to inform our work on Great Ape Diaries. These will collect under the category heading Reading & Reviews. These will also be collected together on a single page in the new GAD web-portal we are launching February 2012.


There are two entry points to exploring great apes, one natural history, the other is via the people who study them. Sy Montgomery’s Walk With The Great Apes is a wonder version of the latter.

Montgomery’s writing focuses on the three astounding women scientists, often called “Leakey’s Ladies” after the Anglo-African archeologist Louis Leakey, that have in recent years penetrated the jungles of Africa and Borneo to observe, nurture, and defend humanity’s closest cousins. Jane Goodall has worked with the chimpanzees of Gombe for nearly 50 years; Dian Fossey died in 1985 defending the mountain gorillas of Rwanda; and Biruté Galdikas lives in intimate proximity to the orangutans of Borneo. All three ladies spent years in the field, making observations of and bonds with our Hominid cousins at an intimate level that bridge behavioral research and cultural anthropology. Their studies eventually launched conservation organizations and efforts focused on ape survival – waging battles to save them from extinction in the wild.

Their combined accomplishments have changed the way behavioral science is studied, as Goodall, Fossey, and Galdikas forever changed how we think of our closest evolutionary relatives, of ourselves, and of how to conduct good science. From the personal to the primate, Sy Montgomery explores the science, wisdom, and living experience of three of the greatest scientists of the twentieth century.

The newly released paperback version (above) is also illustrated with an orangutan image by Gerry Ellis.

Conservation – Eventually It Must All Be Local


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“Why are you here without authorization? Could Rwandan scientists go to Yellowstone, build a research station, and install themselves for as many years as they want? Without permits? Could they establish their own rules and violate your laws?”
– Dismas Nsabimana, Director National Parks Rwanda [1978]

History was made yesterday, yes, my mother celebrated 85 years on this glorious living planet, a quiet affair, not much attention. January 16th was another birthdate, an 80th, it didn’t attract much more attention either, but was celebrated with a remarkable announcement that may impact conservation and mountain gorillas far into the future. From a wire release:

“For the first time, a Rwandan national has been named director of theKarisoke Research Center in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. Clare Richardson, president and CEO of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (Fossey Fund), announced today that Felix Ndagijimana, who has served as deputy director for the last four years, will assume leadership of Karisoke.”

In appointing Rwandan native son Felix Ndagijimana, as its new director, replacing Katie Fawcett, Ph.D. (from the UK, who held the position since 2002) the Virunga Mountains experienced a seismic event. The appointment of Ndagijimana fell on a historic, yet ironic date. January 16, 2012, would have been the 80th birthday of Dr. Dian Fossey, who founded the Karisoke Research Centre in 1967, after fleeing her initial site a few miles away due to flaring war in then Zaire (DR Congo.) The irony is Dian once told young gorilla researchers Amy Vedder and Bill Weber “work with local people [Rwandans] was hopeless.”

Dian like many westerns believed (and many still do) locals could not protect and conserve their local wildlife and wild places. But the reality is local conservation IS ultimately the only conservation that will work long-term. Globally look at the nations (such as the US) we hold up as models of conservation and protectors of “their” wildlife, all are nations where the locals are engaged.

When I (Gerry) first began work on great apes two decades ago behavioral science – like that Dian Fossey, and Jane Goodall and Birute Galdikas were engaged in – was the predominant research, applied conservation research remained a mysterious yetti.

Over the years I have discovered applied conservation research is messy – behavioral science let’s us play with animals, and make them ours (personally.) Applied conservation research requires too much time mucking about with locals and local problems, and increasing those are global problems, our problems. Rarely does an AC researcher get to sit quietly in a forest and observe. Instead it’s village meetings, community gatherings, politicians, and corporate interests that have to be understood before navigating the murky waters where solutions must be found. Tough schlogging for foreigners. And that effort takes time. Time is the one element locals are prepare, willing, and culturally nuanced and capable of investing.

Karisoke Research Center now has someone in charge who may have time on his side, time is his birthright. Ndagijimana is also well prepared for the task. According to the wire release he holds a Bachelors of Science degree in microbiology from the University of Mysore, India, and Master’s degree in Primate Conservation from Oxford Brookes University in the UK. Over the past few years he has represented the Dian Fossey Fund at numerous regional and international conservation events, including International Primatological Society Congress meetings in Uganda and Scotland; the 2010 Poverty and Conservation Learning Group workshop; and the annual Kwita Izina gorilla-naming ceremonies in Kinigi, Musanze District.

Ndagijimana’s time will be spent overseeing research activities on mountain gorillas and other species in the Volcanoes National Park, as well as Karisoke’s health and education programmes targeting communities surrounding the park, and administering the centre’s staff, including trackers, anti-poaching personnel and research assistants. All elements of applied conservation.

Recently two baby mountain gorillas were born to celebrate the New Year 2012 and hope for mountain gorilla survival – Monday’s announcement of a local Rwanda finally overseeing Karisoke maybe be the best birthday present we could have given the little Hominids – and the best hope for their survival.

The Top 10 Ways to Protect Mountain Gorillas


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PRESS RELEASE From The Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project

January 13, 2012

The Top 10 Ways to Protect Mountain Gorillas
The recent popular YouTube video (
showing a tourist being touched by wild mountain gorillas has captivated more than a million viewers and will likely inspire many travelers to book a trip to visit mountain gorillas themselves.
While the desire to connect intimately with one of our closest relatives is an innate reaction, such close contact with this endangered species is not in the best interest of their conservation. Disease transmission due to contact with humans is a very real problem for mountain gorillas, some of whom have become ill as a result of their proximity to humans. That said, tourism and the work of scientists, researchers, and other experts with gorillas are absolutely vital to the species’ survival.
For those looking to make a positive impact on mountain gorilla conservation, the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project would like to suggest 10 ways in which you can help:
1. Trek to see the mountain gorillas in Rwanda, DR Congo, or Uganda.
Without gorilla tourism, mountain gorillas might have gone extinct. The regions where mountain gorillas live are home to the densest human populations in Africa. Most of the people living in these areas are farmers, so land is critical to their livelihoods. However, the governments of Rwanda, Uganda, and DR Congo have kept the gorilla’s volcano habitat off-limits to agriculture  in order to protect the gorillas, largely because the revenue gained through tourism outweighs the value of forested slopes for other purposes. Gorilla trekking permits are pricey ($400 in DR Congo and $500 in Rwanda and Uganda), but by purchasing permits, you’re not only buying a once-in-a-lifetime encounter with this charismatic species, you’re providing the economic incentive for the gorillas’ protection. Visit the tourism websites for gorilla trekking Rwanda (, DR Congo (, and Uganda ( to learn more.
2. Do not trek to see gorillas if you are sick.
Due to the genetic similarity between humans and mountain gorillas, gorillas are susceptible to many of the same infectious diseases that affect people. Mountain gorillas are also immunologically naïve, meaning they are particularly susceptible to human diseases because of their historic isolation from people. Research conducted by the Gorilla Doctors and other scientists has proven that mountain gorillas have died as a result of infections that originated in people. Infectious disease, after trauma, is the leading cause of death in mountain gorillas, accounting for 20% of acute mortality. The most common infection is respiratory disease, which can range from mild colds to severe pneumonia.
“To protect gorillas from such infections, the national park authorities ask that anyone feeling sick or running a fever to not trek gorillas.”
3. Stay at least 7 meters away from the gorillas.
In order to reduce the risk of disease transmission and to avoid changing or disturbing the gorillas’ natural behavior, the Gorilla Doctors have worked national park authorities to establish the rule of staying 7 meters (21 feet) or more from the gorillas at all times. The gorillas themselves, especially youngsters, don’t know the rules and may approach humans, but tourists should make the effort to back away and avoid touching the animal if possible. The 7-meter rule should be observed at all times, even when gorillas leave the national park and venture on to property owned by tourist lodges and camps.
4. Donate to conservation organizations working to protect mountain gorillas.
One of the most effective ways to help mountain gorillas is to donate money to organizations working on the ground to conserve the species. Numerous organizations including MGVP have spent decades finding effective methods for protecting mountain gorillas, and most rely on grants and donations to fund their work.
When donating your money to support any cause, it’s important to evaluate the organization you’re considering supporting to determine how successful the group is in carrying out its mission. You should find the answers to questions like,  “What methods does the organization use to accomplish its stated goals?” and “Does the organization have any data or statistics to show that its methods are having an impact?” An organization’s website and annual reports should provide this information, or you can always send an inquiry to their public information or development officer.
MGVP is proud to be the only organization providing direct life-saving medical care to mountain gorillas in the wild. Research has shown that the work of the Gorilla Doctors and the anti-poaching efforts of the park rangers and trackers we work with is responsible for up to 40% of the growth of the human-habituated mountain gorilla population in the Virunga Massif over the last 10 years.
5. When visiting the region, do other activities in the parks in addition to gorilla trekking.
The vast majority of tourists who visit the national parks where gorillas live spend a day or two trekking gorillas and then leave. However, all of the gorilla parks offer other amazing wilderness experiences. As with gorilla trekking, the revenue earned through these activities further incentivizes the governments and local people to protect mountain gorilla habitat. You can climb the active Nyiragongo volcano in DR Congo, home to the world’s largest lava lake, or can climb extinct volcanoes in Rwanda and Uganda, such as the snow-covered Mt. Karismibi or the fluted peaks of Mt. Sabyinyo. Both Rwanda and Uganda offer treks to see golden monkeys (another highly endangered primate), and in Rwanda you may also visit the gravesite and former research station of Dian Fossey. Ask your tour provider about the options available.
6. Support local businesses and community projects around the national parks.
As much effort as the governments and conservation organizations put into protecting the gorillas, the support of the local people surrounding the parks is vital to ensure the preservation of gorilla habitat and the conservation of mountain gorillas. The more that local people share in tourism revenue and benefit from non-profit and community efforts in the area, the more likely they are to want to protect the mountain gorillas. Tourists can help by frequenting local restaurants, shops, and other businesses, or by making contributions to community projects around the park. For instance, tourists can pay to visit the Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village near Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda, which employs former poachers as cultural interpreters and performers.
7. Don’t buy products made with wild animal parts.
While mountain gorillas are very rarely targeted by poachers, other animals living in the national parks where gorillas live are actively hunted. Poachers mostly set snares to catch small antelopes to bring home to their families for food but occasionally larger animals such as buffalo or elephants may be targeted. Gorillas often get caught in poachers’ snares set for other animals. Furthermore, poachers’ very presence in the forest disturbs the environment and increases the risk of zoonotic disease transmission. While the main purpose of poaching is to obtain bush meat, wild animal skins, bones, and ivory may be used in crafts and other items sold to tourists. If you have any doubt about a product’s origins, don’t buy it. And certainly, in the rare instance you may see or hear of someone selling a live wild animal, report it to the national park authorities.
8 . Trek with a tour provider that donates a portion of the trip cost towards conservation efforts.
When researching tour packages to see gorillas, consider booking with a provider that directs a portion of their profits to support conservation projects. For example, Terra Incognita Ecotours, which offers 8-day Rwanda tours including a visit with the Gorilla Doctors, donates a portion of the trip cost to MGVP. In DR Congo, you can book packages including permits, transport, and accommodations directly through Virunga National Park, which puts profits right back into the park itself.
9. Organize a fundraiser.
Can’t afford to make significant personal donation or travel to Africa? Organize or participate in a fundraiser to help raise money for mountain gorilla conservation. In the past, schools have raised money for MGVP through bake sales and fun runs. Travelers and volunteers visiting gorillas in Rwanda have sold gorilla t-shirts to raise money to pay for their trips and make a donation to MGVP. One of biggest our fans even raised $30,000 in donations and pledges by walking 228 miles from Seattle to Portland, Oregon!
10. Spread the word about mountain gorilla conservation.
Anyone can make a difference for the gorillas by telling their friends, family, and colleagues about the mountain gorillas and the efforts being made to save them. Remember that even though mountain gorillas are critically endangered, their story is a positive one! Mountain gorillas are the only subspecies of non-human great ape growing in number. Fewer than 250 animals were counted in the mid-80s when Dian Fossey was researching the gorillas but today the population numbers nearly 800 animals. This species has a fighting chance for survival if we continue to work to address conservation challenges.

About Mountain Gorillas

With only 786 individuals left in the world, mountain gorillas are a critically endangered population. Mountain gorillas live in central Africa, with about 480 animals living in the 173-square-mile Virunga Volcanoes Massif, which combines Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Mgahinga National Park in Uganda. The remaining population lives within the boundaries of the 128-square-mile Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.

About the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project

The Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization, is dedicated to saving mountain gorilla lives. With so few animals left in the world today, the organization believes it is critical to ensure the health and well being of every individual possible. The organization’s international team of veterinarians, the Gorilla Doctors, is the only group providing wild mountain gorillas with direct, hands-on care. The Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project partners with the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center to advance One Health strategies for mountain gorilla

About the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center

The UC Davis Wildlife Health Center, home of the Mountain Gorilla One Health Program and a center of excellence within the School of Veterinary Medicine, is composed of 13 epidemiologists, disease ecologists and ecosystem health clinicians and their staff working at the cutting edge of pathogen emergence and disease tracking in ecosystems. It benefits from the expertise of 50 other participating UC Davis faculty members from many disciplines who are involved in the discovery and synthesis of information about emerging zoonotic diseases (those transmitted between people and animals) and ecosystem health. Its mission is to balance the needs of people, wildlife and the environment through research, education and service.

Speculations on Human Rights


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chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes)

“How smart does a chimpanzee have to be before killing him constitutes murder? If chimpanzees have consciousness, do they not have what until now has been described as "human" rights?”

– Carl Sagan, from The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence.


Other than the West African nation of Gabon, the United States is the only country in the entire world that openly still experiments on chimps.

Gorilla Tourism: Look, but don’t touch or get touched


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tourist touched by mountain gorilla

Wild mountain gorillas at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest investigate and touch tourist John J. King II in a video still. Still photo via video from Jonathan Rossouw.

Few experiences tug on emotional heartstrings like experiencing wildlife, especially what conservationists like to call C.M.V.s – Charismatic Mega Vertebrates – things like giant pandas, elephants, tigers, and great apes, up close and personal. Great apes in particular present a conundrum because they are often as curious about experiencing us as we them.

A week ago an engaging video clip popped up on the internet and began its viral ascendency to the cyber-summits.  A link to the video has littered my email in-box no less than 30 times – and I thank all those who are helping keep me and Skye informed on everything happening on great apes – but after watching the clip a few times I began getting that oddly uneasy feeling, ‘This might be good for gorilla tourism, but ultimately this can’t be good for gorillas.’

(A short version of the interaction has circulated the internet – Watch the longer produced version on youtube here.)

No longer had that thought settled in to stay when I read a similar sentiment, “Frankly I’m more worried about the danger to gorillas,” Those are the words of former director of the Mountain Gorilla Project in Rwanda Craig Sholley (now of the African Wildlife Foundation.) I first met Craig in the early 90’s in the Virungas Mountains, the other final mountainous sanctuary for mountain gorillas. Craig is one a rare handful of folks that has been close to mountain gorilla survival issues for most of the past couple decades.  His words have perspective, they are worth considering.

Pressure on the gorillas is coming from multiple directions not just tourism. As both the Virungas and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest are enclosed by farm fields it has become increasingly common for mountain gorillas to wander into old range areas now converted to human agriculture. As encounters increase disease and outright hostility towards the animals has the potential of escalating.

Mountain gorilla numbers hover around 800 (an exact number will come in 2012 from the recently completed census), regardless of their exactness they will reveal what we already know – mountain gorillas are the most endangered great ape on Earth and a single disease or regional conflict could tip them towards extinction.

In March 2011 a report from a mixed consortium of researchers, some representing gorilla groups from Africa and the United States, including the Mountain Gorilla Veterinarian Project (MGVP), reported in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, a publication of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

The genetic relatedness of mountain gorillas and humans has led to concerns about interspecies transmission of infectious agents. Human-to-gorilla transmission may explain human metapneumovirus in 2 wild mountain gorillas that died during a respiratory disease outbreak in Rwanda in 2009. Surveillance is needed to ensure survival of these critically endangered animals.

The report concludes, “Although human proximity to mountain gorillas is essential for their conservation, also crucial is minimizing the risk for human-to–great ape transmission of respiratory pathogens.

The research was based on two gorillas both were members of the Hirwa group living in Rwanda. From the MGVP website article, Mountain Gorilla Deaths Linked to Human Virus “In 2008 and 2009, this group experienced outbreaks of respiratory disease, with various amounts of coughing, eye and nose discharge, and lethargy. In the 2009 outbreak, the Hirwa group consisted of 12 animals: one adult male, six adult females, three juveniles and two infants. All but one were sick. Two died: an adult female and a newborn infant.”

In an email MGVP Communications Officer Molly Feltner wrote, ” MGVP works with the park authorities to set up measures to help prevent the spread of disease and we always advocate that all visitors stay 7 meters [25 feet] or more away from the gorillas. Gorillas don’t know the rules and may come closer, but humans should make the effort to back away.”

We are constantly amazed by the actions of animals – especially when they “act like us.” John J. King II had an amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience, at any price.  I’m delighted for him, but if it inspires more gorilla tourists to show up in Uganda and Rwanda with this video playing in their subconscious it could be mountain gorillas that pay the ultimate price.

Craig’s final thought articulates my sentiments exactly:

“The introduction of human diseases into a gorilla population could be population threatening,… And considering that half of the world’s gorillas live in this one forest, it could be a disaster.”

(If you would like to read additional thoughts on the ‘Gorilla touching’ concern: Wild Gorillas Groom U.S. Tourist in Uganda – “Gentle” encounter should still remain extremely rare, experts warn.)



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Silverback Mountain Gorilla

Let us know what you think? This week a generally gentle giant - Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla beringei). Tipping the scales at over 400lbs (180kg) male silverback spends most of the day munching peacefully in a salad bowl habitat - eating up to 50lbs (23kg) of vegetation per day. Undisturbed mountain gorillas may live 30 years or more in the wild. Rarest of the great apes they live only in the Virunga Mountains nestled along the border between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Photo: 201156 (c)Gerry Ellis/Minden Pictures

Great Ape ‘Photo of the Week’ Contest Begins

Faustino baby chimp Gombe Stream

Great Ape 'Photo of the Week' kick off with the above photo of baby chimpanzee "Faustino" - we are launching the new contest to let you help select the 13 photos that will create a 2012 Great Ape Diaries Wall Calendar. The selection will come from your voting - here in the blog, on our upcoming new GAD website and on our Facebook site. We need YOU. Your votes - by responding here on the blog, or "Likes" on Facebook will tell us which photos you like the most. Every week we will have a new photo and then come December 2012 the top vote getters will create a wall calendar you can buy on our GAD website. We invite you to share the link with friends and family to the GAD Photo of the Week - here and on our Facebook site. If you miss a week you can always return and vote in the Photo of the Week gallery that will appear on the new website and/or on Facebook in the Album labeled Photo of the Week.


Ape Orphanages – Should We Report On Them?


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orphan baby chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), Rwanda early 1990's.

We are discussing the value of reporting ape orphanages during our Great Ape Diaries journey.  The reality is we could do an entire project just on orphanages – and then what?

So our question – to you – are ape orphanages worth reporting on?? What do you think?

Should we, during our work on the Great Ape Diaries, report on chimp, gorilla and orangutan orphanages as a key part of chronicling survival of great apes in the wild?

No longer wild, one of the saddest sights we encounter in documenting great apes, regardless the species, are orphans, mostly abandoned baby apes. Many are confiscated from poachers, the illegal pet trade, illegal logging camps, but all are horribly sad little lives. The greater tragedy is how difficult, if not impossible, it is to return them to the wild – the curse of being such a powerfully strong social animal. So are ape orphanages worth the expense? Do they really help the remaining wild apes?

We would really like to hear from you. Should we visit these orphanages during our journey and report on what we see?  Let us know here on the blog or over on our Facebook page.