Bambelela Lodge is home to one hundred vervet monkeys, four meerkats, two porcupines, two owls, a few sheep, many chickens, a flock of peacocks, and a tame Kudu named Sissie. In addition, the lodge is home to volunteers from all over South Africa and the world, all playing their part to rehabilitate monkeys so that they can one day be released back into the wild in troupes. Bambelela is run by Silke, who has been running it for almost 10 years without any government or NGO funding. She relies on donations and the kindness of volunteers to support all the animals Bambelela cares for.
The lodge began when Silke and her partner Rodney bought the property the lodge is on, but the previous owners had left their vervet Rafiki and their dogs behind. Silke couldn’t find the owners to give the monkey back, and the estate agent suggested she keep it. Suddenly, more monkeys began arriving, and Silke decided to try her best, even though she did not exactly know how to rehabilitate primates. There have been problems since then: she has had to move enclosures about to suit municipality laws, and she has been arrested three times for her work because she does not have a licence for it. However, she cannot procure a licence because she needs to register and get sponsorship. She has applied for her licence but is struggling to find sponsorship. Nearby nature conservation groups are overwhelmed, and drop the monkeys off at a distance and she collects them. She has had numerous public complaints, but she believes that she must speak for the monkeys and be their voice.
Africology admires Silke’s determination to educate people about the importance of vervets in South Africa’s environment and their validity as members of the wild, and of the planet. We found out about Bambelela when Silke sent us an email telling us about how amazing our products are for helping her work with monkeys. The natural strength and worth of our products speak for themselves. Because we formulate our products without any chemicals, we do not have to test our products on animals. Instead, we do skin-patch testing on human volunteers. By South African law, any product that contains a chemical must be tested on animals. Because it is entirely against our ethos, we refuse to use cruelty as a tool for beauty. It would seem that the monkeys agree with us!
On the 20th of January 2010, a Canadian volunteer was wearing Africology’s Body Butter and released monkeys came close to her, smelling her skin before rubbing her legs. They did not realise she was human until they looked up, then they jumped away in surprise. Silke then wrote to Sibula Spa, one of our suppliers, asking for the Body Butter so that it could help the monkeys get used to feeders and speed up their rehabilitation. Touched by this, we sent a hamper including Geranium Body Balm and Skin Hydrating Oil. Both of these latter products are used to treat monkeys who have been injured. During my visit to Bambelela, I met a brave vervet named Pilani, who had been electrocuted by an uncovered power transformer. She eventually lost an arm, a leg, and half her tail to gangrene. But Silke uses the Skin Hydrating Oil and the Body Balm every day to soften and soothe the skin, as well as speed up healing. The wounds are now neat and healed, and it was profound to see Pilani leap from couch to table despite only having two functioning limbs.
Because vervets are so expressive and so similar to humans, they are still poached and sold on the black market as pets and for their organs and bodies to be used in cruel and unnecessary experiments. Often they are kept illegally as pets, and are often badly treated once they grow up and are not as pink and cute as the owners would like. Because biting is one of their group behaviours, many people dump them once they start exhibiting this natural behaviour.
Bambelela seeks to educate and inspire others to respect our cousins and friends the vervets. They have a highly important role as messy feeders, as pest control, as population control. They are remarkably expressive, with 30 calls and over 60 distinct gestures. My experience with them over a weekend has only reinforced their worth and place as denizens of this beautiful country. The baby vervets sat on my shoulders, gently kissed my cheek and patted my hair, showing the kind of emotion and expression we can only get from human babies a year old. They are as intelligent as they are agile, and well worth the efforts of the Bambelela team on an hourly basis.
Silke says that the most rewarding part of her work is when the monkeys no longer come inside the house to be fed and cared for, and when they go out into the wild of their own accord. Once she has released a troupe, she hopes to not see them again, knowing that they are where they are happiest. It is a long journey to make sure each troupe is ready for release. For the first 6-8 weeks of their lives, monkeys are inside at night and are always looked after. After eight weeks, they move outside and into cages with groups. They are slowly moved into bigger and bigger groups until there are enough for a functional troupe. Once the monkeys have shown true self-sufficiency and have bonded as a group, Bambelela secures a release site for them, and then releases them into the wild.
The volunteers for Bambelela work on either a monthly or yearly basis, helping in the care of the animals as well as educating the public. Their duties are varied: feeding, care, nappy-changing, cage maintenance, public education and medical care, as well as accepting emergency cases. To look after both the monkeys and the other animals in their care is a demanding job, one that often goes unnoticed. Many of the animals under their care have come to be there as a result of human cruelty and neglect. Many of the wild animals, such as Velvet the water mongoose, and the meerkats, can never go back into the wild, permanently damaged by their unthinking human owners. As a result, Bambelela Lodge will carry the costs of housing and feeding them, out of love and respect for their intrinsic worth as earthlings.
Africology admires the tireless work of Silke and her dedicated crew. If you would like to help, the Lodge is always in need of supplies, such as nappies (sizes 1-4), baby formula, volunteers and money. They offer working holidays, and superbly comfortable chalets for family vacations. You can donate Africology’s Skin Hydrating Oil to aid injured monkeys through our website. Africology is proud to be associated with such a dedicated team, and we wish them all the best in the future.
Visit Bambelela’s website for booking details: http://www.bambelela.org.za/index.php