The staff was careful not to alert the gorilla as they stealthily followed it. The animal was behaving oddly, and they weren’t sure what he’d do if he realized they were shadowing him. They knew he was holding something in his hands, but the grass wouldn’t let them see what it was. Then it all became clear, and the staff suddenly realized what it was. Until now, the events that transpired were practically unheard of.
Every day was a unique and exciting experience at the Mefou Primate Sanctuary in Cameroon. Rescued primates like gorillas, monkeys, and chimpanzees relied on the sanctuary as a rehabilitation center and a home. Over 300 primates roam through this refuge, which is run by the UK-based charity, Ape Action Africa. The organization was founded due to the horrible circumstances that wildlife faced in the African continent.
In 1996, Ape Action Africa came into existence but was originally called the Cameroon Wildlife Fund. Its founders wanted to improve the lives of primates living at the Mvog-Betsi Zoo in Yaoundé. After operating for 12 years, they discovered that they had a greater mission. As if shrinking habitats weren’t bad enough, primates in Cameroon also faced danger from illegal bushmeat and pet trades. So, the organization decided to grow.
In 2009, CWAF, which was later known as Ape Action Africa, began rescuing primates, who were orphaned. They not only provided rehabilitation services, but they gave them an environment that was safe. And that’s how the sanctuary met Bobo, a silverback gorilla. Bobo’s mother was captured by poachers when he was 2 years old. He was reclusive and shy at first. But 22 years later, he’s bigger, stronger, and a total boss.
A group of Western lowland gorillas live at the sanctuary with Bobo. But, Bobo is both the leader and the dominant male of his group. Given that he’s 350 pounds, other gorillas would think twice before challenging his authority. Although he’s huge, he’s very kind. In fact, the sanctuary’s staff claim that he’s “a fair and gentle leader who is well respected by the group.” But his fairness has led some of the males in his group to assume he’s weak.
Among gorillas, it’s common for young males to try to overthrow their leaders. Just ask Bobo. “Younger males Kibu and Nkamum once challenged Bobo for his position, but were never successful and no longer attempt to take control,” the sanctuary staff explained. Obviously, Bobo’s authority is unquestionable. He might be gentle, but his power will put the fear into the heart of anyone who opposes him. But you wouldn’t think that was the case after the way he behaved one morning.
The caregivers check up on the animals at the sanctuary every morning. But one day, they noticed that Bobo was acting weird when they went to see how his group was doing. He was hiding in the underbrush, and staring at something on the ground with intensity. This wasn’t typical for Bobo, so the staff decided to observe the animal. They realized that this odd change in Bobo’s behavior could have been a warning of a possible issue, and they wanted to monitor him.
PTSD is common among orphaned wildlife, especially after they undergo a dramatic change in lifestyle. Although the sanctuary had been his home for 20 years, it was still possible for Bobo to experience this too. So, the caregivers watched closely to see what he was doing. But they were curious about the object in his hands. They weren’t sure what it was yet. Then they noticed it, and they were shocked.
It turns out that the thing in Bobo’s hands was actually alive, and it was a rare find too. It was a bush baby, also referred to as a galago. Bush babies are considered the smallest primates living in the African continent. This bush baby seemed to weigh about 8 ounces. Somehow it managed to become friends with an otherwise intimidating gorilla. Meanwhile, the caregivers watched in amazement as the friendship unfolded.
“The bush baby had probably been living inside the gorilla’s enclosure, which is covered in trees, or just outside the fence line, as the area surrounding it is forest,” explained Elissa O’Sullivan, a spokesperson for Ape Action Africa. But the caretakers were shocked by how delicately Bobo was looking after his new friend. And they were more surprised by how comfortable the bush baby was with him.
“The bush baby showed no fear of Bobo — moving around his body and spending time hopping around in an open grassy area, before choosing to return to Bobo,” shared O’Sullivan. But this galago also seemed to be defying his natural habits too. “Bush babies are usually nocturnal so it is very rare to see one, and even rarer to witness this kind of interaction,” claimed a post on Ape Action Africa’s Facebook page. In fact, the elusive galagos are creatures of the night.
Like their cousins, the Loris, galagos tend to hunt and feed at night. They have no need for daylight. They have great hearing, night vision, and a sense of smell that is so sharp that they can “map” their surroundings from the various scents. They can also hunt and track for food quickly and grab insects in a quick second. So, it was incredible to see a bush baby interacting with a gorilla during the day. But that’s not all.
The Mefou Sanctuary is home to rescued wildlife, but that doesn’t mean that wild animals don’t find their way into the facility. However, this was a unique experience for the caregivers. “We have never witnessed a wild primate interacting with a rescued one,” explained O’Sullivan. But the humans working at the sanctuary weren’t the only ones who were awestruck by the unusual relationship.
“The little bush baby was happy to play in Bobo’s arms, hopping off to explore the grass nearby, before returning to Bobo’s hand.” Eventually, other gorillas were drawn by the curious interaction of their leader and the tiny galago. They obviously didn’t like being left out of the loop, but would the other giant apes wind up scaring the galago?
“Bobo’s group-mates were desperately curious, particularly his favorite female Avishag, but he kept them all at a distance, making sure that no one disturbed his new friend,” the staff wrote. Playtime ended about two hours later, and Bobo had one more thing to do. “When the game was over, Bobo walked purposefully off on two legs to deliver his friend safely back into the trees,” said the Facebook post. Who wouldn’t want Bobo as a friend?