Morris Sheriff first encountered the chimpanzee in the forest of Barkadu.When he saw the huge old giant of a creature, the man was afraid. As Morris tries to climb a kola tree for dear life, he fell down and was almost unconscious. Sensing what had happened to the man, the chimpanzee went right over to him probably trying to see whether the man was hurt. Although Morris was still afraid, he attempted to hold the “baboon’s hand for help”. And perhaps not sure of his real intention, the chimpanzee moved away to a distance. When Morris stood up, to try to leave for town, the chimpanzee started to cry. When he stopped the chimpanzee would stop crying. From there he thought that the animal was not dangerous. So finally as he was going back to town the baboon carefully followed him all the way to the outskirts of the town.
Since the chimpanzee came to Barkadu, her only concern has been how to get food to eat. And this is where a small problem arose one day. A woman was said to be passing by with a pan on her head and the chimpanzee tries to see what she was carrying and then a misunderstanding started from there. The woman’s husband thought that the Baboon was attacking his wife. So the chimpanzee and the man went into a violent fight. The man wounded the chimpanzee on her arm with his cutlass and the chimpanzee bit the man’s hand. According to some of the town’s people, the man was sent to a hospital in Guinea for about a month during which time the chimpanzee also went back into the forest for about the same length of time. Since that incident, no other problems have occurred between the chimpanzee and any of the community members. However, whenever she is hungry she still wants to look into people’s baskets, buckets and pans for food such as bananas. But most of the people are beginning to understand her now and they are being generous to her.
When Superintendent Kortimai invited our EGP team to inform us about the chimpanzee, he showed us a letter that described her (the baboon) as very dangerous and harassing people in the Barkadu and Kuluka areas. That evening, we immediately paid a visit to Barkadu. We were lucky to see the chimpanzee sitting right at the front of a man named Mohammed Sankor`s house eating banana straws. I was so amazed although the whole scene appeared so very familiar to the town’s people. As we carefully tried to take still photos that evening, we were told that the baboon doesn’t like cameras. If it sees that one is trying to take a shot of her, she would run back into the bush crying. And for sure she did when a man using his digital camera with flash ran the chimpanzee into the bush. Mohammed Sankor, the man whom the chimpanzee trusts so very much, did manage to get her back to town. But they could only remain on the main road waiting for us to leave. We left that evening, in utter disappointment, without me getting a clear shot of the chimpanzee. Before leaving though Sankor told us that the chimpanzee sleeps in the bush and returns the next day around 7:00 AM.
We got our team ready the next morning March 27, 2009 equipped with enough bananas and a TV camera. This time around, the “old lady”as someone called the female chimpanzee, was sitting right by the road side at the intersection of Kuluka and Barkadu where the UNMIL check point is mounted. One of the EGP team members, Master General automatically became a new friend of the baboon when he started feeding her with the bananas as we filmed, all to the amazement of commuters and those who were passing with their products heading to their usual Friday Voinjama market.
Interestingly, where the chimpanzee was that morning is exactly where the Kuluka School project which EGP helped to construct is situated. So that morning, classes appeared interrupted as the students were all there taking a good look at the chimpanzee. After having fun that morning and learning that the chimpanzee is rather friendly, but not harmful, we went to Barkadu town to get the actual story of how she lives with the people. The details of this story come on film soon.