Information provided by Pandrillus. Photos by us.
Pandrillus is a Nigerian NGO that promotes survival of one of Africa's most endangered primates, the drill monkey. The main activity is the Drill Rehabilitation & Breeding Center project (nicknamed "Drill Ranch"), conducting conservation research and survey work in Nigeria and Cameroon, where it also co-manages the Limbe Wildlife Center. The project also provides sanctuary to 28 rescued orphan chimpanzees, the older ones living in their own natural forest enclosure at Afi Drill Ranch, while the youngest live together in a chimp nursery in Calabar.
What is a Drill?
Bulli, the challenging male to the alpha in Group 6, Ochu
Drills (Mandrillus leucophaeus) are large, short-tailed rain forest monkeys, endemic to Cross River Sate, Nigeria, south-west Cameroon and Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea. Drills have a smooth black face, males have wider faces with intense magenta and purple coloration in genital area and around the cheeks, and they can surpass 45 kg. They have a particularly well-formed thumb, they communicate with facial expressions, vocalizations and specialized behaviors. Unlike most monkeys, drills are semi-terrestrial, searching the ground for food (fallen fruit, roots, leaves, insects, invertebrates), climbing the trees to forage and to sleep at night. They are also semi-nomadic, traveling long distances in the forest, perhaps following fruiting seasons of different trees. Like most primates, they are highly social and live in groups of 15-30. At certain times of the year super-groups of up to 200 animals can occur in the wild, allowing individuals to leave the group they were born in and join another, thus preventing in-breeding. Unfortunately these extraordinary animals are in danger of extinction. Hunted illegally for bushmeat, with only 40,000 sq km of natural range impoverished by logging, farming and human developments, drills are a top conservation priority among the 60+ African primate species. Little is known of drill ecology, as they are elusive and not well studied in the wild. The world population if wild drills is less than 10,000 and could be as low as 3,000.
The first step is to learn exactly where drills still live and which populations have the best chance of survival. Liza and Peter completed in 1989 a survey of Nigeria and covered most of Cameroon (which has over 60% of world's drill habitat). Drills are protected from hunting in Cross River National Park in Nigeria and the Korup National Park in Cameroon. In May 2000 the Cross River State Government created the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary, where wild drills, gorillas, chimps and other endangered species survive. Still, forests are difficult to secure against poachers. Former hunters are being employed as wildlife rangers, to patrol the sanctuary, in an award-winning community-based protection scheme. Recently Peter has created the first ever Task Force that is fighting illegal logging in an attempt to protect the wildlife habitat of these endangered species.
Drills are rare in captivity and they reproduce poorly in zoos, where they lose some of their native instinct and are not likely to successfully return to the wild. While conducting survey work in 1988, Peter and Liza discovered infant drill in villages, by-products of hunting of nursing mothers shot for bushmeat. They decided to salvage this potentially valuable conservation and genetic resource and to raise the primates in natural-sized social groups in their own habitat. The Pandrillus project promotes habitat protection education and awareness about the importance of endangered wildlife conservation.
What is "Drill Ranch"?
The Ranch started in 1991 with 5 drills, and by January 2009 298 drills - over 75% of captive drills in the world - were living in Afi. Most drills were donated by citizens of Cross River; some were recovered by wildlife or park officers, or police. Two monkeys were recovered from Asia, from the hands of international smugglers. The project never buys animals, because it's illegal and we must not encourage wildlife trade. Drills usually arrive as infants and, after quarantined, grow and live together in 1 of the 6 groups, in solar-powered electric enclosure of naturally forested drill habitat in the Afi River Forest Reserve, Boki LGA, Cross River State, Nigeria. The first group of drills was flown by helicopter to Afi in 1996.
The project is home to Africa's first captive drill birth and world's first ever twin birth in captivity, and has witnessed more than 200 births since its start. The nearest villages (Buanchor and Kataba) benefit greatly from the project: permanent staff is employed from there and most animal food is purchased from local farmers.
The wheelbarrows with fruits for one of the 3 daily feedings. Each will feed a group of drills, the scarcity of the food encourages the drills to continue foraging and prevents them from becoming dependent.
The project has been working for this pioneering event for over 5 years. If the project will be able to maintain sustainable protection of the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary, the super-group of over 130 drills will be released from Enclosure 1 on Afi Mountain, in a carefully monitored program. The Graduation will be a worldwide premiere and is scheduled for 2012, during fruiting season, with various scenarios planned. The super-group is expected to split into 3 to 5 groups, and the larger males - who will potentially assume dominance within the new groups - will carry collars.
Chimpanzees in Drill Ranch
Another world record is about to be completed in Afi Ranch. The staff is working on the largest ever naturally forested enclosure for chimps, a beautiful 12 ha of primary rain forest, where the rescued chimps will be living a decent life, along members of their own species. Chimpanzees are 99% genetically identical to humans and after living in miserable captivity for years - in poorly managed zoos or as pets - they cannot re-adapt to life in the wild. The project offers home to rescued chimps, but does not encourage captive breeding. The chimps in Drill Ranch are divided in 2 heterogeneous groups, dominated by 2 alpha males: Willy and Jacob. The oldest chimpanzee is 42 years old and there is also one lowland chimp, rescued from Guinea, named Pablo.
How is Drill Ranch funded?
The project is funded by direct donation in Nigeria, the fund-raising efforts of Pandrillus Foundation in the USA and Rettet den Drill in Germany. The Cross River State Government provides monthly contribution for staff salaries and animal feeding and has donated a vehicle and funded eco-tourism infrastructure that brings in revenue. Non-national staff, including Liza and Peter, work for free, with about 40 Nigerian staff on salary. The project has a tree nursery where native species are being grown from seedlings, then sold for a modest fee to the forest department for re-planting. Pandrillus works in cooperation with the Cross River State Forestry Commission, Ministry of Environment and Tourism Bureau. Pandrillus offers a yearly grant for a green project developed by a Boki villager.