In November 2012, I went to Kenya from Montreal with a one-week stop in Holland for a three-month trip in various African countries.
So of course, I have thousands of stories from that trip in store for you considering all the animals I saw and the safaris I went on in different of the most spectacular national parks on the planet. But for starters, I would like to tell you about the day I spent on the beaches of the island of Zanzibar, in Tanzania.
My trip was planned by an English travel agency called “Oasis Overland” which organized camping tours.
We went around in a big yellow truck that had been converted into a bus with large windows and with all of our camping equipment inside it.
We traveled more than 9320 miles in 75 days, we were practically always on the move but with enough time to do safaris and more.
But let’s get back to the topic in hand, I was telling you about the third and final day we spent on the beaches in the northern part of the island. That day, I decided to take a boat early in the morning and snorkel in the nearby beautiful reefs.
Unfortunately the water was quite rough and even though I tried to follow the current, I started to feel so bad so quickly that someone got me out of the boat and I came back to the shore swimming.
A little later, when I felt a little bit better, I went out for a walk on the beach. In the distance, I saw a young boy coming my way with a monkey attached to a thin rope and walking beside him.
It was a very sad sight, because actually on several touristic beaches of the world there are people that get themselves a monkey, or other wild animals, to have tourists take pictures in exchange for money.
You can see this in different countries: gibbons in Thailand or iguanas and spider monkeys or squirrel monkeys in México. Obviously, it’s a very bad idea to contribute to this business, I would never give any money to these people.
But what I will do is approach them, talk with them, see where do these animals come from and if possible, I would try to explain to them that what they’re doing is really bad. I would even, if I have the opportunity, report them to environmental groups in hope that the groups will seize the animals and bring them to a shelter where they will live a better life.
For example, I was able to provide a shelter I visited in Phuket in 2010 with a list of places where gibbons lived in the South of Thailand.
It’s a delicate matter anyway and in general, even despite the fact that gibbons are a protected species, the police don’t do much about the problem.
When I saw that little monkey, I leaned over and she immediately leaped into my arms. I had a chat with the boy and asked him if he could let me have her for a little while. He had already seen me at the hotel where we were staying so he left her with me and went on his way. In less than five minutes, I became the caretaker of a monkey for a day!
Her name was Gizzard, she was rather young, and I realized that she wasn’t a vervet monkey the most common species in the region—but rather another species. So a little later, with the help of my mammal expert guide, I was able to identify her species: she was a Samango monkey.
I was also able to share that with her owners. Because throughout the day several boys came to see me and told me that they were the owners, it was a good way to start up a conversation with them since they didn’t have any idea of the species she was from. They all knew Gizzard was, and at first nobody understood why a foreigner was suddenly taking care of the well-known Gizzard.
Near the end of the day, I think that the real owner appeared, another young boy with whom I tried to talk and explain that the life the little monkey was living wasn’t adequate for her. He said that he loved her very much. He bought her at high price from a park ranger and he even went as far as getting her teeth filed to prevent him from getting hurt from her biting! It was a pointless conversation since we had completely different points of view.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t do anything. I had to let her go and go on with my trip even though it brought me so much pain to leave. Even our guide thought that I would go and kidnap the little monkey, hide her in my truck to entrust her to some shelter… which I had seriously consider but I couldn’t see how I would do it.
My travel companions looked at her with a mixture of fear and fascination. Many of them didn’t want to get close to her while others took pictures from a certain distance and I had trouble getting them to hold the rope so that I could go to the bathroom or have a dip in the ocean because it was quite the hot day.
I noticed that she wasn’t as affectionate with the others as she was with me—even to the extent that she was a bit aggressive towards them when they tried to touch her. Despite the fact that we only shared a day together, we became good friends, I missed her during the rest of the trip and until today I still think about her and wonder how she’s doing.
In the middle of the day, she took a nap, lying down on my sarong.
When she woke up, I gave her some fruits and started a conversation with one of my friends who was also very fond of animals. She saw me playing with the little monkey—practically throwing her in the air, which she enjoyed—and she approached me, asking what I was doing.
I have experience in playing with black howlers and spider monkeys I used to take care of at the zoo of Córdoba and I know that they enjoy this type of games, until they made small noises that sounded like laughs. But my friend thought that I was mistreating Gizzard in some way.
While I was explaining her all that, Gizzard saw her chance the thin rope I was holding and started running towards the village houses. I spent the next hour looking for her everywhere with one of her supposed owners, asking people if they had seen her and checking on ceiling, trees and in houses.
The boy went to buy a fruit to convince her into coming back. I was very worried; I had a loose monkey on the island. How was I going to explain that to the boy who entrusted her to me the same morning?
Thankfully, we were able to find her on the patio of a house, playing with a vervet younger monkey. I think that they knew one another, that she knew exactly where to find him and that she purposely fled just to go look for him. And by the way, monkeys are very social. So that’s another cruel thing to do; keeping them apart from members of their own species…
I stayed a while more with the two monkeys and I even saw another baby vervet in a bar. The issue of illegal pets is still very real. At the end of the day, and with a lot of grief, I gave Gizzard back to her owners, I came back to see her the next morning before heading to Stonetown, the capital of the island. Of course she recognized me, leaping into my arms, being as sweet as ever.
When we met our driver again—who stayed mainland—a few days later he told me that other guides told him that a woman from his group had adopted a monkey and that she was planning to continue the journey with the monkey (which was against the company policy rules).
He was convinced that they were talking about my friend and me, the two who always came by and saved animals. My reputation had preceded me to Dar-es-Salam, the capital of Tanzania, where he waited for us.
All I have left are pictures of Gizzard, but I still feel her close, like many other incredible monkeys that showed me affection, even though it was only for a short while. I am never as happy as when I am with them, adult monkeys or babies, who look at me with such intelligent eyes and who know that they can find a never defecting ally in me.
Author: Helena Arroyo
Translation: Noëlla Moussa