My latest piece for Men’s Journal is about a pretty unorthodox travel destination – Nigeria. But bear with me, because in the southeastern Cross River state, butting up against the Cameroonian border, is one of the most incredible conservation projects I’ve ever encountered:
A promised encounter with Nigeria’s rarest apes and monkeys may sound like a come-on from a particularly inventive email scam artist, but a rainforest camp run by a pioneering primate charity can guarantee a mono a mono encounter with one of the princes of the forest.
A four-hour drive on red-earth roads through the forest southeast of Calabar, an old port, the Afi Mountain Drill Ranch is a dedicated wildlife center-cum-tourist attraction that hosts half a dozen troops of drills, baboons’ rare cousins. The white-rumped apes live independent but structured lives under the watchful eyes of Liza Gadsby and Peter Jenkins, an American couple that arrived in this verdant part of Nigeria on an overland tour in 1980 and have been trying to protect this endangered species ever since. The habitat serves as a sort of halfway house for animals affected by the bushmeat trade.
Pandrillus are a living example for both conservation and development organisations that if you want to effect real change, you need to be in there for the long hall. When Peter Jenkins proudly recounted to me that one of the organisation’s proudest legacies was making it socially unacceptable in the area to eat primate bushmeat, I asked him how long that had taken. His reply – nearly two decades. There are no quick fixes.
I’d first come across Pandrillus on my very first trip to Nigeria for Lonely Planet back in 2005. Although I didn’t make it up to Afi Mountain Drill Ranch until much later, I covered that trip as part of one of LP’s early blogging experiments. You can find that blog (hosted by MyTripJournal), to read here, written in a slightly breathless fashion, mostly because I was scrabbling down my thoughts in some slow and sticky Nigerian internet cafe. I like the entry about recreating the gleeful anarchy of Lagos in the comfort of your own home best, although it’s sad to note the entries about northern Nigeria – Zaria, Kano and Maiduguri – as the activities of Boko Haram have left these places decidedly unsafe for visitors. The new edition of LP West Africa (out in a couple of months) mentions them only in passing, as it was deemed unsafe to send an author there. A travel piece about the Kano Durbar will have to wait for happier times.