by Luke, in Uganda
6th December, 2009
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Noah attended Daniel’s 3 year old birthday party yesterday. I was giving Mum a well deserved rest, so Noah tightly clutching Daniel’s birthday present, dutifully trotted down to Daniel’s party at the local village hall, with me in tow. I’d also just spent half an hour washing the car with Noah so needless to say, we were a little moist, but I’d slipped on a clean pair of shorts and Noah always looks sharp so we were in the zone. I thought with all these trips, having worked in townships, slums and refugee camps I would be used to an environment of chaos – not even close. To the uninitiated, a three year old birthday party is a league unto itself. If I was trying to simulate a full scale riot in the sleepy village of Martin, I could do no better than recruit a very sweet and polite Daniel and his pals and dish out loads of sweets. I’m surprised the police weren’t called – and if the had been they would have needed a riot squad.

I’m hoping this next trip will be a much a calmer affair. Uganda has come around quick – just a week back at home and we’re now back on a packed plane racing towards the next destination… Bit of a tough turn around this one but Adam is back on the crew and with the old hands of Marc and Nathan. The grand plan is to pull it out the bag and hopefully make a brilliant programme. Big focus on primates this one so I’ve been told I should feel right at home… whatever that is supposed to mean.

Airline Food

by Luke, in Uganda
7th December, 2009
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Not one to make a fuss I would like to briefly mention that a staple diet of at least three meals a day has been a mainstay of the human civilization for thousands of years. BA have decided to reverse the trend, so checking in at 8am for a 10am flight, arriving at a local time of 10:45pm – qualifies each passenger to one meal, a pathetic egg and spring onion sandwich on limp brown bread – and a kit kat. Maintaining a fighting weight of 100kg is going to be a challenge on this trip with a start like that.

I did see the BA stewardesses once or maybe twice during the entire flight (there might have been two of them – I’m not sure), but if I had seen them a third time, I would definitely have asked for a glass of water or something to try to fill the aching chasm of hunger within. Needless to say, when we pitched up at the airport guesthouse about midnight (customs was an epic) – they had stopped serving food. We managed to plead a bowl of pumpkin soup so all was not lost but be warned if you ever fly BA to Uganda – you are going to pitch up wanting and thin. Start booking your tickets now.

Ngamba Island

by Luke, in Uganda
7th December, 2009
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When you do arrive – Ngamba island is amazing. A chimp sanctuary of note, amazing animals, wonderful work and a brilliant start to the mission. Anyone can come here as they run a strong eco-tourism project alongside the charitable work.


We spent the afternoon with Baron and Africa – two orphaned infant chimps that the team here had rescued, integrating themselves to the 41 strong community of chimps that live on the island. Africa’s mother had been caught and killed, her parts harvested for witchcraft – baby Africa was rescued by local authorities and Ngamba stepped in to do the rest. Baron is missing a finger on his right hand after being caught up in a snare when he was very young. Captured and used for the illegal pet trade, he was subsequently confiscated and is now living it up with the staff here. Their integration to the community here is a long process as the chimp social heirachy is complex and delicate so they need to first bond with the juveniles (5yrs-8yrs) then when they have made some friends, bond with the sub adults (8yrs-12yrs), finally they will bond with the adults (12yrs+) whereby hopefully one of the adult females will adopt each of them respectively before they meet the alpha male of the community. Scary business meeting a big troop of chimpanzees – 98.7% DNA same as us, adult males have the strength of five men – definitely a question of talking when spoken too. Wonderful interaction with the chimps today and more planned for tomorrow – I wouldn’t say I feel right at home as I miss it too much, but these animals are easy company and brilliant fun. Great start to the trip.




First Contact

by Adam the Cameraman, in Uganda
7th December, 2009
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It was great to be back on a Vet Adventures trip. I had to miss Peru and Nepal as I was busy on another project, but I was in safe hands as Simon the Cameraman did a great job.
First day of shooting meant catching a small speedboat from Entebbe over Lake Victoria to Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary, where Luke was to experience the great work being done by the team who rescue, rehabilitate and return chimpanzees back into the wild.

That morning the skies had opened and it had rained cats and dogs, with a few rumbles of thunder and a lightning strike on our hotel!! By the time we were on the one and a half hour speed boat cruise over the lake the sun had burnt off the dark clouds and we were all excited on the prospect of filming chimpanzees for the first time.

Lawrence, the manager of the project, showed us around the sanctuary; we filmed Luke feeding the chimps from a platform and then enter one of the enclosures and met some of the young chimpanzees that had still to be introduced into the larger community of adult chimpanzees.

Not having filmed chimps before I wasn’t sure what they would do to us and the camera for that matter. Despite them being young, between 2 to 5 years of age, they definitely packed a punch and have sharp fangs to boot!

As time went on we got more comfortable to the surroundings and the chimps seemed to warm to us, especially the smallest one Rambo, aptly named as he tore around, throwing himself onto everyone, slapping each one of us on the back of our legs as he raced past. A real “cheeky monkey”!

Before any primatologist decides to scold me, I must remind everyone that chimps are not monkeys, they are primates.

The bright red sun descended behind lake Victoria as millions and millions of fruit bats came out of a distant forest covering the sky in small dots. What a spectacular end to a great day.

Chimps But No Otters

by Nathan the Assistant Producer, in Uganda
8th December, 2009
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We’ve been filming at the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary and it has been brilliant. Seeing these creatures close up has been really magical and the walk in the forest with them was something that will stay with me for life (the fact it poured down with rain only made it more special in some way).

My brother had been to the sanctuary a month before on holiday and the one thing he said was amazing was the otters that bathed around the island. I had a search for them but they were obviously off hiding at that moment, although I can’t complain as the chimps were the real stars of the island.

Muggings in the Mist

by Adam the Cameraman, in Uganda
8th December, 2009
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What a morning!!! Lawrence the manager gave us a 6am morning wake-up call; after having spent most of the night awake listening to the frogs, the pelting rain and thunder, waking up was the last thing I wanted to do.

It was our last day on the island and we had a lot to pack in. There was the walk through the forest with the young chimps we had filmed the day before, then Luke and Lawrence had a couple of cases with some poorly chimps before heading back to Entebbe at 1pm.

Just as we were about to enter the forest, wooosh!! Rain lashed down. Serious rain. Really, really wet rain. Within a couple of minutes we were soaked through and the chimpanzees weren’t liking it either. Six of us (4 crew and rangers) stood under a tree shivering, wondering whether to go back or not. My camera, despite it being covered was getting seriously wet and I was concerned that if it stayed out any longer it might damage it, which can happen and I didn’t want to jeopardize the rest of the shoot. I took the camera and the rest of the kit back to our tents, changed clothes and picked up my lumix pocket camera, which I had only bought two months before.

We joined the rest of the gang in the forest and proceeded to go on our little hike together with the chimpanzee’s who were merrily following us, getting up to tricks, making a nuisance of themselves and for a couple of them who were really lazy, getting piggy back rides. It was at this moment that I saw Luke giving a particularly heavy chimp a lift on his back, so I took out my pocket camera, put it on video mode and started to film him, but before I knew it, this hand came in and quick as a flash, snatched the camera out of my hands and then legged it off into the bushes. Nooooo! My £250 camera!! In the hands of a chimp!! What was I going to do!! As soon as I saw it banging it against a tree trunk, I knew I had no chance of getting out of there alive. It wasn’t until we got back over an hour later that one of the rangers managed to bribe the chimp with a banana that I got my smashed camera back.

YoYo the chimp did actually manage to take a picture of himself/ herself. This is it. Pretty good, eh?

Full on chimp experience

by Luke, in Uganda
8th December, 2009
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A stormy start to the morning would be an understatement – you could hardly see for rain it was that bad. Within a matter of minutes we were completely soaked to the skin as we walked with a group of chimps, into the forest to get the full on ‘chimp experience’. For me, this meant carrying a 50kg chimp for about twenty minutes that hopped on my back (what else can you do when a 50kg chimp with 3 inch canines hops on your back?). For Adam this meant getting mugged by a chimp and losing a £250 pocket camera. Whichever way you look at it – the chimps had a good morning and totally made the most of our intrusion into their world.
After a couple of operations on two chimps with Lawrence – the head vet there who was totally professional and very competent – we headed back to Kampala and have got things set for the USPCA tomorrow – dogs and cats, helping the only charity in the whole city. I can’t wait.
Before I sign off, I should mention that chimps are wonderful creatures, deserve a lot more protection than they get and are close to being wiped out by the illegal bushmeat trade, illegal pet trade and deforestation. Support the cause and sponsor a chimp.


by Luke, in Uganda
9th December, 2009
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The USPCA is a great organization. Run on a total voluntary basis by three founders, each of whom help out when they can; it is staffed by five individuals lead by Dr Alex – a Ugandan vet – who manages it on a day to day basis. The USPCA can’t afford its own clinic but shares its facilities with those of Alex who runs his own private practice alongside the work of the USPCA. Being clearly a bit short of bucks doesn’t stop the USPCA from paying huge attention to detail in ensuring the comfort and good welfare of the dogs and cats under its care. I was really impressed with the shelter – they have about 80 dogs looking for homes that they have rescued from the street and all of them seemed happy, healthy animals, living in harmony in runs of about 6-10 dogs based on size and age. I loved the fact each run had raised platforms for environmental stimulation, that they manage being on the edge of capacity so well and it was so clean and the staff so friendly. The cat run was tucked as far away from the main dog runs as possible and it seemed more like a giant playpen for the animals rather than a mesh box exuding a cold sterile rehoming functionality that sometimes (albeit rarely) these places can become.

I had a good day – tried to catch one dog in a bad way – failed miserably and we’ll need to track her down and see her right at some point over the next ten days, but managed to catch another one (super friendly so not the biggest challenge) and spayed her with Alex as we discussed the goals and ideals of the USPCA. She had a TVT and was riddled with ticks so wasn’t in the best health – she had ehlrichia and her spleen was massive, she also couldn’t clot, but the surgery went well and I gave her the necessary meds. It’ll be good to check on her next week.
Ideally, I would love to spend a bit more time with the USPCA. It’s a charity I didn’t know and it is doing sterling work. It has no real administration and is a true champion with what it is trying to do – stoically going about its business without any fanfare. It is the sort of unassuming charity that really motivates me so I hope WVS can support them in the future and I look forward to hopefully sending them some teams to help out.


by Luke, in Uganda
10th December, 2009
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Fairly non interesting fact is that about 15years ago I went to Matusadona National Park in Zimbabwe and volunteered on a rhino sanctuary. It was a great adventure, four of us who had shaved our heads for black rhinos and were high on the adventures of our first year at University, backpacked around South Africa and Zimbabwe one summer and worked on the national park as part of our overseas extramural study experience. It was my first exposure to African game and I remember quivering in my boots when we stumbled upon a lion who had a fresh kill at its feet, and basically being fairly awed by the big game experience.

Sadly, the head ranger left and his deputy got arrested for stealing, the rhinos all got poached and Zimbabwe went downhill as Mugabe began to choke it relentlessly. Things didn’t quite pan out for that project or that country, but this one in Uganda – where we are today – oozes a lot more potential and has the driving force of Angie behind it who has a steely determination to see it through and succeed.

The Rhino Fund Uganda is on a mission to turn things around. Rhinos were wiped out in Uganda in 1983, the plan of the Rhino Fund is to establish a safe sanctuary for white rhinos (southern ones as the northern population is now in numbers such that genetic viability is impossible) and reintroduce them to the National Parks. To that end they have a 70km square sanctuary that is fiercely patrolled by over 50 rangers and have a breeding population of resident white rhinos. It is proving to be a winner – the second baby was born a couple of weeks ago and is in fact the second baby ever bred in Uganda in a sanctuary. It isn’t only the rhino story that is inspiring though – the bush meat trade where we are is immense. Totally illegal but if I wanted an antelope steak it would take me less than ten minutes drive down the road to buy one. Angie is on a mission to try to conserve the wildlife so has put word out that she will take any babies that are found orphaned as a result of the bush meat trade or indiscriminate snares.

Compensating villagers for handing over baby antelopes has it’s downsides but at least she is doing something and it gives the babies a chance of life – safe sanctuary in her reserve for starters. We rescued two such animals today – totally adorable little creatures which they named Luke and Adam. Goes without saying that Luke is obviously much better looking…
Angies family are great – Chris, Nico and Nico’s girlfriend Tammy are all from South Africa and have made their lives up here in the bush.Very hospitable and good company. Looking forward to tomorrow when we get tracking the rhinos and see what it’s all about.

On other news – Marc is tearing out chunks of his wispy beard due to the fact internet is proving to be such a total nightmare. I think it’s a good individualistic look – his wife may disagree.

Becoming precious…

by Luke, in Uganda
11th December, 2009
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Finished a hardcore morning of tracking rhinos today. This was great as we got to see both the babies – the only two rhinos having been born in Uganda in over 27 years – which was pretty special. Godfrey was our guide and we pranced around in front of the camera in an attempt to be oblivious to the 2.5 tonne wild white rhino about ten metres behind us. The rhinos were fairly laid back and no misadventures occurred and then we hit the road towards our next stop in Bwindi. At this point I’m going to hit you with some fun facts about white rhinos such as that they have a 16 month gestation (black rhinos have only a 15month gestation), they weigh up to 2.5 tonnes, live until about 45 years of age and graze in social groups with big flat lips (as opposed to a prehensile hooked upper lip which their much more aggressive but small solitary black rhino cousins have). Hope you feel enlightened.
After a nice farewell to the wonderful Angie and her kind family, we hit the road. Describing an 8 hour road journey, 4 hours of which were in the dark, with poor lights and variable road rules, in words other than terrifying and death defying would be tough. Luckily Adam drove heroically the whole way which meant we made good speed but also presented numerous opportunities for him to impart driving tips to other road users as we passed them and which I’m certain they all found useful. Needless to say, he got us here safe and sound which was the key and with much relief we are now in our stop over motel before we nail another six hours road travel tomorrow. It’s just gone midnight and hitting the sack is the next mission. Looking at the ‘sack’ I want to hit, I definitely won’t be the first to have done so judging from the massive dip in it. African motels in small towns on main roads have a special reputation and I’m keen to remain as naïve about this as possible. It might not be a plan to slip a visit here onto a honeymoon itinerary – there is hot water – and a working light – which is handy or I might not be able to read the large HIV leaflet complete with stomach turning pictures that has been left in my room for me. Very thoughtful. I wish I had packed a plastic sheet for the bed though – not too sure about the big black stain in the middle of it – perhaps all this ‘stardom’ is making me a bit precious…