The first challenge we had to deal with was to coordinate flights and hours so that the partners from different places could meet with us. The majority left from Barajas airport, in Madrid. Anna Mula joined us in Casablanca, and Oscar and Marta in Tambacuonda (Senegal). The operation worked with the precision of a watch, told Paco Cuellar.
We arrived at Dakar (capital of Senegal) in the dark, very early in the morning, and we were only able to see what we already expected: the poverty of the country. We were hosted by the guides Abdoulaye and Ibu, speaking a perfect Spanish.
In the following morning, after taking breakfast and exchanging money, we started the trip in a truck and it would have 600 km until Badián camping, which would be our headquarters during the stay in that country.
The trip was hard. We took the National Road 1, which links Dakar to Bamako (Mali), and it was not in good conditions in the first 170 km. The rest was a precarious way, full of bends and holes that made us keep to 30km per hour. According to Paco Cuellar, Director of GAP Project Spain, who was in charge of the expedition, they felt like they were in a mechanic bull, so much were the jumps and movements faced until they reached their destiny.
The impression the country gave me was a little bit depressed – told Paco – , but people were very kind. What surprised us and we kept on asking was "where are the animalsω". We were only able to see corn and peanuts crops, no forest at all. We asked ourselves constantly what had left from Africa. It was a rain season and everything was green. The vegetation covered everything, there was plenty of water, maybe the animals had a place to hide not to show themselves.
Another intriguing consideration – said Paco – is that we went to the forest in the night without guns, because it was evident that there was no danger related to great felines. In fact, it is clear that the giraffes, rhinos and every big animal had disappeared from the country. There was a lot of birds, fantastic ones, but the sensation of a domesticated country, affirms Paco, did not get out of my head during all the trip.
People from Senegal live connect to the roads, as long as they offer on their borders the products they own or produce, in order to get money for their survival. In the camping of NGO Camp Solidarity, the organization which supported us during the trip, we shared all the humanitarian aid that we had taken and distributed to the several local populations. We donated the medicines to a public health station that had only one nurse and no beds, he told.
Our mission was to meet the savannah chimpanzees that the American primatologist, Jill Pruetz, had discovered and closely accompanied during a period that she also taught at Iowa University. We had arranged to meet Jill near Fongoli Reserve, tells Paco, but she had to leave early to United States and we were not able to meet.
As long as we were not able to count with Jill – says Paco – we found ourselves in a dilemma: we could continue and help her in Fongoli or we could concentrate in other projects at Ivory Cost or Guinea, where a lot of things should be done.
Here in Senegal, everything is very interesting, as long as the chimpanzees live in caves, as the ancient human beings, and hunt small mammals with shafts that they had made. And there is already a project and sponsoring to make it work. In the other regions mentioned, where the chimpanzees\’ and gorillas\’ populations are bigger, there are many things to be done yet.
We are not able to contact the chimpanzees\’ group that Jill is accompanying, but the trip was very useful for us to understand what it is to lead and maintain a project in Africa. With the experience we have achieved in the few days, we are going to be able to make better decisions and to correct the mistakes we made as long we did not know the African reality. "It was worth it", it is the conclusion made for by Paco, "and all the participants are open to go in the next African expedition."
Dr. Pedro A. Ynterian
GAP Project International