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An Expedition to Cameroon: The Great Ape Conservation Film Project

Main image: Shufai at Ape Action Africa, ©GEllis/GLOBIO

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Local school children participating in Ape Action Africa’s Education Program ©GEllis/GLOBIO

In the months leading up to our expedition we created – in French – questionnaires to assess what local teachers and students knew about the great apes they share their country with. In February 2024, after months of drafting grant applications, writing and rewriting survey questions, countless Zoom meetings, and a 15-hour flight, I landed in Cameroon’s capital, Yaoundé. I was accompanied by the GLOBIO team: Gerry Ellis, Executive Director; Demelza Bond, Communications Manager; and Rachel Medley, GACFP Education Consultant.

Cameroon is a spectacular place for many reasons. It is one of 15 countries with the highest primate species diversity, home to 39 distinct species, including chimpanzees and gorillas. Additionally, Cameroon hosts the Mefou Primate Sanctuary, also known as Ape Action Africa. For over 25 years, Ape Action Africa and their dedicated staff of over 50 individuals have provided a home to over 300 gorillas, chimpanzees, and various monkeys—this sanctuary is the closest thing to the wild for these primates.

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Ape Action Africa provides care to hundreds of endangered primates.

As cliché as it sounds, the moment I stepped into the sanctuary at Ape Action Africa, I felt at home. Despite the sweltering heat and initially unfamiliar noises that later lulled me to sleep, I realized I had found my place. Each morning began with a 4:30 am wake-up call by the chimpanzees and ended with the melodic songs of forest insects. Our days were filled with training sessions for local community members, navigating bumpy dirt roads to meet schoolteachers and students, and listening to primate lessons in classrooms.

Five community members—two women and three men—were trained in questionnaire facilitation and the use of iPads to administer questionnaires to local teachers. As of this writing, 99 questionnaires have been completed. The information gathered will drive the creation of region-specific films, enhancing conservation efforts by incorporating cultural context and local knowledge. These questionnaires provide valuable insights into what is known about gorillas and chimpanzees, forming a crucial “knowledge assessment” for conservation strategies.

The ‘Questionnaire Facilitator’ trainees taking part in their five day training course ©GEllis/GLOBIO
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The Facilitators visit local schools to carry out vital research which will drive the next phase of the project ©GEllis/GLOBIO

Not a day went by without me being in complete awe of the devotion of the Ape Action Africa staff and the profound connection I felt with the forest and its inhabitants. Each morning, as I walked to The Hilton (the one-room kitchen that doubled as our office), I would glance to my left and see Nona, a resident Western lowland gorilla, perched gracefully on a tree branch. Our eyes would meet, and, in that moment, I felt a peace and connection beyond words.

The days in Cameroon also revealed the complex threats impacting both endangered primates and local communities. Despite having read numerous articles on community-based conservation, experiencing the reality first-hand was profoundly enlightening. Through our questionnaires, observations, and countless conversations, I learned that it is impossible to protect and conserve primates without involving people—those who collaborate across time zones, visit sanctuaries, generously support primate conservation, and coexist with gorillas and chimpanzees.

Lastly, I had the honor of visiting one of my heroes, Shufai – a magnificent male Western lowland gorilla who arrived at Ape Action Africa as a youngster with severe injuries from poachers. Despite the trauma and the amputation of his left arm, Shufai has become a powerful, gentle leader. He inspires me to be a voice for conservation and protection.

Nona perched in the tree by the Hilton, ©M.Leavendusky/

While words cannot fully express my gratitude, I will try. The GLOBIO team and I extend our heartfelt thanks to Laurie Cummins, Community Engagement Manager at GRACE; Dr. Kathayoon Khalil; the phenomenal staff at Ape Action Africa; the Horne Family Foundation; and all GLOBIO supporters. Primate conservation is a collective effort that requires hard work, collaboration, and intentional community involvement.

Thank you for taking the time to read about our project. Stay connected with us on social media and via our email newsletter for further updates, and don’t hesitate to contact us if you have questions!

Maegan Leavendusky, Outreach Education Coordinator at GLOBIO

Your support makes a difference! Donate and be part of creating a brighter future for great apes in Cameroon.

Follow us on social media (@ApesLikeUs) and stay tuned for updates on our website and YouTube channel.

Thank you for being part of this incredible journey!

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GLOBIO GACFP team at Mefou Park with Charles A ©GEllis/GLOBIO
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Maegan comparing her hand to print of gorilla Shufai, Mefou Primate Sanctuary, Cameroon ©GEllis/GLOBIO

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