Neighbor Ape

Our organization strives to conserve the habitat of wild chimpanzees in southeastern Senegal, to protect the chimpanzees themselves, and to provide for the wellbeing of the Senegalese people who have traditionally lived in the area alongside these chimpanzees. Our goal is to promote sustainable conservation practices that take into account the needs of local humans, in part by providing assistance to the people of the various local villages in the region.
May 6, 2014

Toto is growing!

Big Toto! (courtesy Stacy Lindshield)
Big Toto! (courtesy Stacy Lindshield)

Good news on Toto's progress - he is still growing rapidly! He weighs almost 40 pounds now and is not yet two years old! He has been going out "en brousse" (into the wild) about twice a week to learn more about the environment into which he was born and to familiarize him with chimpanzee wild foods. He will be two years old in August, and this is the time around which we've scheduled our decision as to Toto's future.

After two years of age, it is possible for a young chimpanzee to live on foods other than milk. This means that, theoretically, Toto could go back to the group that he was born into - the Fongoli community of chimpanzees, the study group habituated to the presence of observers beginning in the year 2001 and continuing until today.

However, Toto would still need to be carried, protected and given food in some cases where it is too difficult for a young chimp to get access to a certain food. The hard-husked shells of the Baobab fruit, for example prevent young chimpanzees from accessing the fruit pulp, but this is a very important food source for chimps in Senegal. Even though Toto's older sister Aimee had been weaned when their mother Tia died, she was not yet big enough to reliably and efficiently process baobab fruits, and other chimps in the group shared theirs with her, especially the older adult males. Even though Toto is very big for his age (3 or 4 times larger than a wild chimp of the same age!), he would not be strong enough to access some foods, and he would need to learn many, many techniques when it comes to foraging for food on his own.

Another obstacle to releasing Toto into the wild concerns the influx of many more people into southeastern Senegal as part of the current "gold rush". Toto has much less fear of humans than even the best-habituated Fongoli study group chimpanzees, and this could be problematic for him. People coming to Senegal to look for gold do not necessarily have the same taboos against hunting and eating apes that the Senegalese have. Finally, in considering Toto's fate, we must consider most prominently the fate of the chimpanzee social group that he would be introduced to. We have consistently kept Toto as isolated as possible from humans other than a few caretakers. It is crucial to ensure that Toto would not introduce any diseases or illnesses to a wild chimpanzeee group that he contracted from living in close proximity to humans, as chimpanzees can acquire many of the same illnesses as humans, but they do not have the same immunity to them as we do.

With these obstacles in mind, especially the influx of people into Senegal as part of the gold rush, we have also come up with different options for Toto. These could include keeping him in a semi-captive situation such as you find with chimpanzee, gorilla and bonobo sanctuaries in various places in Africa. He will definitely be introduced to other chimpanzees, as this is perhaps the most important part of a chimpanzee's life (being social) after their basic needs have been met. We hope to be able to reveal our plan for Toto by the end of this year and start working to make it a reality. Currently, he is still living in Kedougou, under the care of Janis Carter and with his two "fathers", Ousmane and Pelel.

Without a doubt, Toto is a very confident as well as a strong and precocious young chimp - he did not go through the trauma that other ape orphans usually go through when they are brought into a captive situation. Toto was simply retrieved by humans he knew after his mother died and no other chimpanzees found him. We are all very intrigued to see how Toto's confidence translates into a social situation with other chimpanzees! Stay tuned for future updates!

Toto interested in the camera!
Toto interested in the camera!
Toto learns about water
Toto learns about water
Apr 30, 2014

A GlobalGiving adventure in Kedougou!

Dondo in front of the chaperone
Dondo in front of the chaperone's rooms

Paige is GlobalGiving's Champion for Customer Bliss in our office in Washington, DC. During a trip to Senegal, she had the chance to visit some of GlobalGiving's projects. Here is her postcard from the field. 

After 15 hours in a sept-place from Dakar (7-passenger peugots that are a common form of transportation in Senegal and often carry goats and chickens along with their human passengers), and a blissful night’s sleep, I woke up to meet with Dondo. He is Neighbor Ape’s team member on the ground in Kedougou, Senegal. He is one of the co-founders of OBARAR, the village association working with Neighbor Ape.

Our first stop was the the new dormitory being built! I was lucky enough to have not only the company of Dondo, but also of one of his fellow OBARAR co-founders, and a missionary who had worked in their village for 30 years. “They’re patrons now!” he told me, proud of how these young men have become leaders in their community.

It’s easy to see the improvement this dorm will bring to the kids’ education – a safe, new home away from home! The average number of years a student stays in school in Senegal is 8, meaning most children leave school before going into high school. To battle this statistic, OBARAR is building the dormitory so that students won’t need to travel back and forth daily on the miles of asphalt, dirt and bush separating their homes from their schools. This makes going to, and staying in, school much easier for these students.

They were well on their way to having the students in the dorms for the school year ended – it appeared their biggest project was getting the fence finished (which they were working on at the visit). This will also involve the community members, as they’ll help to create the bamboo-grass half of the fence, giving the parents in the community ownership over this big project.

It’s is inspiring to watch the OBARAR team get excited about the progress. “This will be a place for all students who need a place to stay in Kedougou,” he friends continues, “no matter what village they are from. If they do not have family here, they may stay here with us.”  

To finish off our day, I was invited to visit the house where the kids are currently staying, a clean and nice rented home that they’re quickly outgrowing. Putting laughing smiling faces to this project, really drives home the point: these kids want to learn, and this project is allowing them to do so. 

Dondo let
Dondo let's me take a look at the dorm plans
Kids from the community at Primary School
Kids from the community at Primary School
Me visiting the kids staying in Kedougou!
Me visiting the kids staying in Kedougou!
Mar 21, 2014

New Healthcare Dispensary Opens in April 2014!

Dispensary construction at dormitory in Senegal
Dispensary construction at dormitory in Senegal

Neighbor Ape continues to provide financial assistance for local people living in the villages of Fangoli, Tenkoto, Petit Oubadji, Seekoto, and Djendji. Although it is the dry season in southeastern Senegal, malaria cases still occur, and apparently yellow fever also struck the area. In addition to assisting humans in this rural area where adequate healthcare is relatively expensive, ensuring the health of the local human population also helps contribute to the health of the Fongoli chimpanzee community. Since chimpanzees are so closely related to humans, they can contract illnesses from us but usually do not have the same immunity to diseases that we do, especially ones that are new to them.

The largest healthcare project that Neighbor Ape is currently involved in is the construction and continued support of a dispensary at the Neighbor Ape/OBARAR dormitory for Beudick schoolchildren in Kedougou. This dorm allows rural children, largely of Beudick ancestry but also including other children such as several from the Bassari village of Petit Oubadji, to live in Kedougou so that they can attend the schools in this regional town. While most rural villages have schools, they are poorly funded compared to larger schools in regional towns, and teachers are often absent because of the difficulties in traveling long distances from their homes to these villages.

The dormitory is scheduled to be completed in April, and the dispensary will provide basic medical supplies and care. We also plan to help finance some of the students' costs of such care, especially in cases where parents are unable to help out financially or where parents cannot be contacted immediately because of the distance between the dormitory and the students' home villages where communication is limited. We hope to help train someone to work in the dispensary and will keep you updated on the progress of this goal!

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