Jaraama everyone! I’m Esta, one of the Primate Keepers at Wellington Zoo and I am currently working with the wonderful team of the Jane Goodall Institute Spain on the West African Chimpanzee Conservation Program based here in Kedougou, Senegal.

Chimpanzees are an endangered species and Senegal is home to some of the last Western Chimpanzees of the population. At the last census (2003) the population numbers were recorded between 200 – 400 individuals. One of the biggest concerns for the Chimpanzees here is loss of habitat which is primarily caused by low agricultural productivity, slash and burn methods, an increase in human population in the area, and the unsustainable extraction of wood and fruits. This deforestation is also already affecting rain patterns, which millions of Africans depend upon in the region.

Life at the Station Biologique!

After my week in Nandoumary I returned to Dindefelo and to the Station Biologique for the weekend. Everyone in the team generally returns to the Station from the different villages and field sites they work on, to hang out and relax, but also to catch up on computer work and for team meetings. In 2013 the Station Biologique Fouta Djallon was constructed, and is the first in West Africa. It provides accommodation, research and administration facilities for local and international volunteers while they work and live here in Dindefelo.

The Station is really nice, and embodies community living. There are always people coming in and out, whether to say hello, share a meal or attend a meeting, it is a hub of activity! There is a communal kitchen, lounge/living area which are all completely open, and the meeting room even has a projector for presentations. The rooms to sleep in each have a Jane Goodall Institute logo on them which is a really nice touch; Jane herself, the Chimp, the Leaf and the Hand. I am staying in the Leaf room during my stay, which is lovely!

Life in the Station is really enjoyable, but it can also be a challenging place to live in. Things we take for granted so readily like drinking water straight from the tap, hot showers, constant electricity, nipping down to the supermarket for milk or any last minute ingredients are all non-existent here in Dindefelo! In saying that, there is something very peaceful and satisfying about living in a simpler way. It makes you really appreciate the little things, like a roof over your head, some food in your stomach and good company!

We have to pump water from the well for drinking, showering and cleaning, which can be hard work. It does however, make the cold bucket of water that is your shower much more welcome after the work you spend to get it! We are lucky here that we have a well to collect water within the Station; some villages may have to walk miles to access the closest well. I am amazed by the women in the villages here who will carry, huge containers or buckets filled with water, perfectly balanced on their heads, up some of the steep and rugged terrain here without spilling a drop, and with baby, snug and secure on their backs! It is extremely impressive. 

On Saturday we often go down to the local encampment to share a beer, a coca-cola and some hot food. When living with your host family, you stay and share meals with them for lunch and dinner. This is really nice, as the family will all gather and eat from one bowl together, which is a lovely way to bond. The food is generally rice, Lacciri (corn couscous), or another type of grain, with Maafe tiga (peanut sauce), Maafe haako (leaf sauce) or maybe Maafe suppu (soup sauce). Depending on the culinary skills of your host mother, the food may be ‘no weli!’ (which in Pular means ‘that’s good/yum!’) or it may be a bit more bland… if you are lucky! So it is a nice change at the end of the week to get a hot omelette, potatoes and some fresh bread. It is also nice to see everyone and hear about how their weeks have been at the different field sites. Everyone was really pleased that I got to see some Chimps in Nandoumary, and told me how lucky I was!

On Sundays there is a big market in Dindefelo and people from all the other villages in the area will come to buy and sell all sorts of products. There is everything from fresh bread, fruits and vegetables, grains, sugar, pasta, clothes, shoes, jewellery, fabrics, cellphones, and hot meals! This is quite an experience to shop in, with so many people, colours and smells it can be quite overwhelming, especially when you are trying to haggle prices and can’t speak the language! Luckily, Roberto, who is the head of the Agroforestry department, helped me and Denise (a student from Oslo University who is studying nesting patterns of the Chimpanzees) navigate our way around and get some food for the coming week. We also went to go and buy some fabric which you can then take to the tailor to be made into pants. There are so many different colours and patterns, it can be hard to choose. Roberto told us that you have to get the worst looking fabric, that’s what makes the pants great. So we decided on a swirly design of yellow and pink, which clashed magnificently. After, we went to be measured and were told our pants would be ready next week – perfecto! It is nice walking around the village, everyone shouts out your name as you go by and wants to stop and say hello. You can still be having a conversation with someone even when you are 20m apart, and counting! Children will come running up and grab your hand and absolutely love it if you pick them up and give them a spin! The community is very welcoming and social.

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On Sundays we have also been having Salsa lessons – courtesy of volunteer Fede who is a salsa dancer! These are lots of fun, and a great way to spend time with everyone and have a laugh. My favourite part of living at the Station is the people. It can be a hard environment to be in, but everyone here is so adaptive, positive and can see the humorous side in everything. The Institut is dedicated to community conservation for the Chimps and that is clear in the way they completely embrace life here in Dindefelo and how they interact with everyone.