Chimfunshi Chimp Orphanage
Coffe Table Photography book out now!
999 Days Around Africa: The Road Chose Me
On multiple occasions on this content I have been lucky enough to be close to – and spend a lot of time with – chimpanzees. A genuine highlight of my entire life was interacting with them in Marienburg, Cameroon. I tickled, carried and play fought with the chimps, and it’s something I will never forget as long as I live.
It is also possible to do the same at the Chimfunshi Orphanage in Zambia, and from the minute I learn about it I’m set on the idea of taking Emily there. After a very big day on the road we find the sight tucked into the jungle, not far from the border of the mighty DRC. We camp a night on the grounds, and early in the morning we gear up to visit the chimps.
We don overalls and load the pockets with dry dog food before moving into the chimp enclosure. Normally visitors walk with three chimps, though one is a little under the weather and so we soon meet two female chimps – one is fully grown and big while the other is maybe 3/4 size.
Right from the start they dig in our pockets for the dog food, eager to dig to the bottom of them all. I notice immediately how gentle and considerate they are – even though they are massively stronger than me and could easily tear me limb from limb they gently try to move my arms when they block access to hidden pockets. One wants me to stand up to get into my back pockets, and gently pushes on my back, then walks around in front of me and pulls gently on my arms while pleading into my face, exactly like human friends would do.
Over the next thirty minutes we sit and play with the chimps – scratching, poking and prodding them, which they don’t seem to mind at all. They enjoy the attention, though I can see they’re not nearly as curious about us as we are about them.
Soon we go for a walk in the jungle, and one chimp is perfectly happy to ride on our backs, loving the high vantage point. Paying with and carrying the chimps is again a one-in-a-lifetime experience, and Emily is quickly lost for words.
Once outside the fence the rest of the chimps are released and we get to know them a little through the fence. As with my other encounters it’s very clear each chimp has it’s own personality, and I quickly notice how calm these chimps are – there is no loud screeching or fighting – they really seem very friendly and quiet.
After removing our overalls we walk over to meet Shelia – the original founder of Chimfunshi. Sheila was originally born in England and in the early 1950s her Dad loaded his family – his wife, two daughters and the family dog – into an old truck and drove from London to Zambia. They journey was obviously beyond epic, and my mind spins thinking about how different their experiences must have been to mine.
I love that people genuinely used to set out on adventures like this – young men would set out to sail the seas without knowing if or when they might return – entire families set out to drive the length of Africa, looking to set up a new home. I can’t help feeling we have genuinely lost something from our world when people focus so heavily on a stable job, retirement savings and insurance.
We have lost our sense of adventure.
Shelia explains she was living with her husband when a friend brought a chimpanzee that needed a home – that chimp started the orphanage and still lives on the property today. Over the years Shelia rescued a baby hippo, which wound up living for 19 years, many inside her house. Only when it was so big it broke the couch and couldn’t fit through the door did it become an outside pet, though until the day it died unexpectedly it was extremely friendly and cuddly – just like a kitten Shelia insists.
Shelia’s life sounds more adventurous and interesting than anything I can even imagine and I could easily spend a month listing to all her stories of life in Africa from 1950 until now.
Chimfunshi is a special place, and once again carrying and playing with chimps is a magical experience.
If you’re in Zambia, absolutely don’t miss it! – https://www.chimfunshi.de/en/chimfunshi/