Darwin Primate Group Sanctuary

It’s been a month now, sorting through the difficult circumstances facing Darwin Primate Group and its fledgling primate sanctuary for rescued and orphaned Chacma Baboons and Vervet Monkeys.

I didn’t think the issues here would be solved so easily, but some are certainly more problematic than others: anti-wildlife landowners, unethical commercial wildlife exhibits, impoverished locals poaching primates for food, typical NGO politics, inter-personal conflict between directors and staff, social media troll wars, chronically inadequate funding – the list is daunting, which is understandably why Karin put out the call for help through Phil Wollen of the Winsome Constance Kindness Trust, who is the reason I got involved in the first place.

Of that new global call, I’m apparently the only person to make the commitment to come and help, which is a bit disturbing. We do apparently get the odd international volunteer here but they typically only stay for a week or two and then it’s back to the small core group. Right now it’s a day to day struggle on the ground so every bit of help counts immensely.

Karin and I started talking in August 2012 about her project wishlist so I knew enough to get started building a framework for developing these assets. It didn’t take long and now all the more “easy” tasks are well underway:

  • building an awesome new website,
  • developing an enrichment program,
  • creating graphics for social fundraising,
  • GIS based resource management maps,
  • biophysical inventory,
  • vegetation surveys,
  • international field school proposal,
  • designing DPG t-shirts,
  • building resources for an orphan adoption program,
  • creating assets for new volunteer program,
  • and much, much more to come in the near future.

Project development and management is why I’m here. Most of this stuff I work on at night while things are quiet and all our primate friends are sleeping. But during the day I enjoy learning primate communication and behavior from Karin or helping the caretakers with their daily duties. It’s often somewhat awkward to join a relatively formed team as they have their set routines. But I don’t mind chipping in with the regular mundane operations. I shouldn’t say they’re mundane; I truly consider it a blessing to be able to help these orphans. I’m quickly growing fond of them and if it means improving their quality of life then it’s a not chore by any stretch of the imagination.

I’ve taken on some extra homework reading primatology research papers – my wildlife background didn’t include much on primates specifically so this is a welcome new learning opportunity. In a way, baboons especially remind me a lot of the bears we have back home in Canada. The resemblance is largely in their faces, anatomy, and some behaviors; but sitting among the wild troops getting to know them is definitely a lot more social and interesting. It’s fascinating to see how closely their communication resembles that of humans. It’s a profound view into our shared evolutionary history.

In relation to the struggle to secure and maintain critical funding, Karin’s allies cautioned her throughout 2012 against allowing outside parties too much of a stake in how the organization operated. This lead to significant concern than a potential foreign donor acting as a financial savior might exert unethical leverage over the non-profit and its sovereign right to self-management. It seems however that this may already be taking place so this is something to watch cautiously.

Thankfully, Phil Wollen’s generous “no conditions” grant which provided the down payment for the sanctuary property may have saved this project and the many lives who depend upon it.

However, a second Australian “donor” has come forward but also placed unrealistic conditions upon DPG in order to be eligible for their financial support. I feel this is something which absolutely needs to be publicized in order to keep everyone honest and on the same page so I will be writing more about this soon.

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