Chimpanzees are not native to Zambia. They are mostly found to the north in the DRC or Democratic Republic of Congo. Sheila Siddle came to Zambia from England as a teenager with her parents in 1947, the year I was born. She married and raised a family on a ranch far out in the bush just south of the DRC border in Zambia on the Kafue River.
The first chimpanzee arrived when her son brought home an injured baby. It was so young that Sheila had to develop a milk formula and then food to keep it alive. When smugglers were caught with a baby chimpanzee trying to cross the border, she was asked if she would take care of that one too until the authorities could decide what to do with it. Thus a lifetime of care for chimpanzees began.
She is now 82 years old and still caring for orphaned baby chimpanzees along with those that have grown up but could not be released or relocated.
I had read about her place so we made it a point to take a day and drive out to her orphanage. It is a large non-profit organization now that has a farm to help support the chimpanzees and the village of workers that make the place function.
We felt honored to be able to meet her when we traveled from the main camp out to her home. She invited us in and shared with us her latest orphan, "Juel", a son of "Jewel" that had died in childbirth.
Sheila Siddle was an interesting person who had seen many things while living in the bush. Her husband had died a few years before, so the responsibility was now all hers and one daughter.
She had also raised a baby hippo that wandered around her property and the river as he got older. Her photos of "Billy" the hippo were fascinating as we purused the family albums of Billy in the house and even on the couch. He eventually couldn't make it through the door, so remained outside. Billy was just twenty years old when he died last year and she was still very sorry for the loss of her friend.
Sheila has several compounds of chimpanzee families that were fascinating to observe.
I could easily spend a day watching the interaction and personalities.
Chimpanzees are the closest animal related to humans.
That is probably why they are so interesting to watch.
Sometimes, as they get old and strong and dominate, they can't get along with anyone else.
I am starting to relate to these guys and wonder if my kids will get ideas when they see these photos.
This is what happens to cranky old men when they can't get along.
I many be in trouble.
I do like salad quite a bit though.
I must remember to behave so I can just wander around my 100 hectares like everyone else.
I related especially well with this kind gentleman below. He is exactly 66 years old, same as me.
Can you imagine the powerful golf swing with those arms?
Of course he would have to stand on a box, but I might have to one day too if I don't quit shrinking.
This fellow and I just wondered what the other ones life was like.
I loved imitating them - or were they imitating me?
These two "silver tops" just chattered away all day and ignored the males.
This group had acres and acres of territory but when the keeper came around with crackers they were right there showing us who was the dominant one and what kind of manners they had learned.
There are very specific noises and gestures that their keeper can interpret in their communication.
It was fun to see them as free as they could be.
Each one was totally unique in looks and personality.
This fellow was the current alpha male and everyone was very attentive to him.
I tried to get a few pointers but we had to move on and didn't have time to refine his techniques.
Back at Sheila's house little Juel had all the comforts. Sleeping in a crib, fed from a bottle, held a lot of the time and even a panda and Mickey to play with.
I had always envied late night talk hosts, in that they get to play with a lot of exotic baby animals.
Of course they show the clip of Johnny Carson and a chimpanzee over and over.
I was happy to have that experience and even play with Jeul longer than Johnny did.
Kristi's motherly instincts came out and I think she had flashbacks to at least one of our kids.
I'll let them figure out which one of the five she was visualizing.