Drill Sanctuary on AFI Mountain

Information provided by Pandrillus. Photos by us. For more please visit www.pandrillus.org

Pandrillus is a Nigerian NGO that promotes survival of one of Africa’s most endangered primates, the drill monkey. Their main activity is the Drill Rehabilitation & Breeding Center project (nicknamed “Drill Ranch”), conducting conservation research and survey work in Nigeria and Cameroon, where it also co-manages the Limbe Wildlife Center. The project also provides sanctuary to 28 rescued orphan chimpanzees, the older ones living in their own natural forest enclosure at Afi Drill Ranch, while the youngest live together in a chimp nursery in Calabar.

What is a Drill?

Please observe on the cover Bulli, the challenging male to the alpha in Group 6, Ochu

Drills (Mandrillus leucophaeus) are large, short-tailed rain forest monkeys, endemic to Cross River Sate, Nigeria, south-west Cameroon and Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea. Drills have a smooth black face, males have wider faces with intense magenta and purple coloration in genital area and around the cheeks, and they can surpass 45 kg. They have a particularly well-formed thumb, they communicate with facial expressions, vocalizations and specialized behaviors. Unlike most monkeys, drills are semi-terrestrial, searching the ground for food (fallen fruit, roots, leaves, insects, invertebrates), climbing the trees to forage and to sleep at night. They are also semi-nomadic, traveling long distances in the forest, perhaps following fruiting seasons of different trees. Like most primates, they are highly social and live in groups of 15-30. At certain times of the year super-groups of up to 200 animals can occur in the wild, allowing individuals to leave the group they were born in and join another, thus preventing in-breeding.

Unfortunately these extraordinary animals are in danger of extinction. Hunted illegally for bushmeat, with only 40,000 sq km of natural range impoverished by logging, farming and human developments, drills are a top conservation priority among the 60+ African primate species. Little is known of drill ecology, as they are elusive and not well studied in the wild. The world population if wild drills is less than 10,000 and could be as low as 3,000.

Drill Conservation

The first step is to learn exactly where drills still live and which populations have the best chance of survival. Liza and Peter completed in 1989 a survey of Nigeria and covered most of Cameroon (which has over 60% of world’s drill habitat). Drills are protected from hunting in Cross River National Park in Nigeria and the Korup National Park in Cameroon. In May 2000 the Cross River State Government created the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary, where wild drills, gorillas, chimps and other endangered species survive. Still, forests are difficult to secure against poachers. Former hunters are being employed as wildlife rangers, to patrol the sanctuary, in an award-winning community-based protection scheme. Recently Peter has created the first ever Task Force that is fighting illegal logging in an attempt to protect the wildlife habitat of these endangered species.

Captivity Breeding to Save The Drill

Drills are rare in captivity and they reproduce poorly in zoos, where they lose some of their native instinct and are not likely to successfully return to the wild. While conducting survey work in 1988, Peter and Liza discovered infant drill in villages, by-products of hunting of nursing mothers shot for bushmeat. They decided to salvage this potentially valuable conservation and genetic resource and to raise the primates in natural-sized social groups in their own habitat. The Pandrillus project promotes habitat protection education and awareness about the importance of endangered wildlife conservation.

What is “Drill Ranch”?

The Ranch started in 1991 with 5 drills, and by January 2009 298 drills – over 75% of captive drills in the world – were living in Afi. Most drills were donated by citizens of Cross River; some were recovered by wildlife or park officers, or police. Two monkeys were recovered from Asia, from the hands of international smugglers. The project never buys animals, because it’s illegal and we must not encourage wildlife trade. Drills usually arrive as infants and, after quarantined, grow and live together in 1 of the 6 groups, in solar-powered electric enclosure of naturally forested drill habitat in the Afi River Forest Reserve, Boki LGA, Cross River State, Nigeria. The first group of drills was flown by helicopter to Afi in 1996.

The project is home to Africa’s first captive drill birth and world’s first ever twin birth in captivity, and has witnessed more than 200 births since its start. The nearest villages (Buanchor and Kataba) benefit greatly from the project: permanent staff is employed from there and most animal food is purchased from local farmers.

The wheelbarrows with fruits for one of the 3 daily feedings. Each will feed a group of drills, the scarcity of the food encourages the drills to continue foraging and prevents them from becoming dependent.

The Graduation

The project has been working for this pioneering event for over 5 years. If the project will be able to maintain sustainable protection of the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary, the super-group of over 130 drills will be released from Enclosure 1 on Afi Mountain, in a carefully monitored program. The Graduation will be a worldwide premiere and is scheduled for 2012, during fruiting season, with various scenarios planned. The super-group is expected to split into 3 to 5 groups, and the larger males – who will potentially assume dominance within the new groups – will carry collars.

Chimpanzees in Drill Ranch

The chimps in Drill Ranch are divided in 2 heterogeneous groups, dominated by 2 alpha males: Willy and Jacob. The oldest chimpanzee is 42 years old. One chimpanzee group is spread in several natural enclosures, and one group is hosted in temporary satellites. Chimps in the satellites have been rescued from miserable captive conditions – sadly, they have never experienced true freedom, but the Drill Ranch staff is working hard to improve these chimpanzees’ life. A world record is about to be completed in the middle of the forest. This will be the largest ever naturally forested enclosure for chimps, a beautiful 12 ha of primary rain forest, where animals can lead a decent life, along members of their own species, because after spending all their life close to humans, chimps can never successfully return to the wild.

Murphy, the former alpha male in the enclosure

Pablo, a lowland chimp with a slight paresis

Never sponsor or accept wildlife exploitation for fun, and only donate to or visit conservation projects that are verifiable and ethical. Animals are not here to entertain us, and zoos are another source of suffering for our planet’s most vulnerable citizens. Don’t support zoos. Chimpanzees for example, are 99% genetically identical to humans. And after living in miserable captivity for years – in poorly managed zoos or as pets – these extraordinary creatures simply cannot re-adapt to their natural habit in the wild.

Maya and Lucy are both waiting for their new primary forest enclosure to be finished

Wildlife and Nursing Animals in Drill Ranch

Often, injured animals are either brought in by villagers or rescued by the Drill Ranch staff from the bush. These animals are usually taken care of until they are strong enough to return to their natural habitat, unless, like in some rare cases, they have suffered an injury that has rendered them incapacitated.


Harry – a 1 year poto adult, rescued after suffering a life threatening injury to the head. Its a nocturnal low rank primate, it feeds on fruit and insects and has chosen to stay in Afi, nobody knows why.

Green Tree Viper – the adult measures about 40-45 cm, it’s poisonous but not dangerous. We saw it sleeping one cold wet morning by our water tank. The next morning, it was gone.

The many amazing butterflies that lives in Afi, some as big as a palm are still little known. Their food of choice are rotten bananas.

Lala, the wild civet baby who arrive in the cam soon after us. She is barely 1 month old and her mother and sister were killed by some farmers. While we were in camp, I was her daddy, nursing her with milk and taking her to matinal and evening outing in the undergrowth. Civets grow to the size of a Labrador, are nocturnal and carnivores, but unfortunately orphan babies have a less than 40% chance of survival.

Lala

Rhinoceros beetle. It lives in the palm stem and its larvae are edible. This one is a male.

Praying Mantises

Pius, the 4 months old porcupine who is recovering well after severe injuries from a drill attack. He will return to the wild within a couple of months.

How is Drill Ranch funded?

The project is funded by direct donation in Nigeria, the fund-raising efforts of Pandrillus Foundation in the USA and Rettet den Drill in Germany. The Cross River State Government provides monthly contribution for staff salaries and animal feeding and has donated a vehicle and funded eco-tourism infrastructure that brings in revenue. Non-national staff, including Liza and Peter, work for free, with about 40 Nigerian staff on salary. The project has a tree nursery where native species are being grown from seedlings, then sold for a modest fee to the forest department for re-planting. Pandrillus works in cooperation with the Cross River State Forestry Commission, Ministry of Environment and Tourism Bureau. Pandrillus offers a yearly grant for a green project developed by a Boki villager.

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