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
And if the regal drills aren't enough, there are chimpanzees on hand as well, many of whom have been socialized since being taken from the forest by hunters or scientists. They are too comfortable with humans to be reintroduced into the wild and that familiarity becomes deeply unnerving at feeding time, when they inspect visitors with clear, deeply intelligent eyes.
Near the ranch is the Kache Bano Canopy Walk-A-Way, a rainforest canopy walk that winds its way through the trees like a tropical liana. Fortunately it's made of sturdier stuff, though it still sways enough to remind travelers that it has been millennia since their ancestors were as comfortable climbing into fruit trees as the drills. Guides pick snacks off overhanging branches and point out an extraordinary array of the birds and butterflies. There are also plenty of trails that lead from the ranch into forest and toward hidden creeks near the base of Afi Mountain itself.
Wandering down to the nearby village of Katabang in search of locally brewed palm wine is a different sort of adventure altogether, especially when the effects of the sweet drink creep up slowly on visitors as they walk back through the forest or take a dip in the nearby waterfall-fed swimming hole.
Half a dozen stilted tropical-wood cabins are dotted about the ranch site. The camping vibe is augmented by the fact that solar electricity is only used to electrify the fences of the primate enclosures. Visitors fall asleep after dimming their hurricane lamps and eavesdropping on the forest's conversation with itself. There are no computers, no emails, and no one trying to scam you out of anything but a fresh piece of fruit.