A possible excursion from Chingola is to the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage. This refuge for some of Africa's great apes could be one of Zambia's major visitor attractions. As it is, it is a fascinating wildlife sanctuary, but sometimes disappointing for visitors. It remains off the track for most visitors from overseas, and is virtually unknown outside Zambia.
Chimfunshi started off as a normal 10,000-acre cattle farm beside the banks of the Kafue River, run by David and Sheila Siddle. It's situated very close to the DRC (formerly Zaire), and in October 1983 Sheila received an orphaned chimpanzee, named Pal, who had been confiscated from Zairean poachers. Pal was sick, malnourished and had been physically abused, yet Sheila eventually nursed him back to health.
It had been known for some time that Zambia was a conduit for the (illegal) export of chimps from Zaire (now DRC). However, as the authorities had nowhere practicable to release any confiscated animals, they had not been over-zealous in trying to stop the trade. Gradually they confiscated more chimps; and, by the middle of 1988, the Siddles had 19 chimps at Chimfunshi. All were kept in cages, but taken out for regular forest walks – which was the best that could be done at the time.
Sending rehabilitated chimps back to Zaire, however, wasn't a safe option, and so it was decided to build them a large enclosure at Chimfunshi. With minimal backing, the Siddles sectioned off seven acres of their own forest land, and built a 4m-high wall around it. Then they gradually introduced a group of chimps into the area. Contrary to expectations, these chimps eventually melded into a coherent family-type group – which clearly was a great success.
By this time orphaned chimps were being sent here from many corners of the globe. In 1991 a second enclosure was constructed to accommodate another group of chimps, this time covering 14 acres and using a solar-powered electric fence. By 2003 there were precisely 100 chimps on the property, 15 of which had been born there – and still the numbers were growing.
The orphanage at present
With an ever-increasing number of orphaned chimps, and generous donations, there is pressure for Chimfunshi to expand. In the last few years it has built two large 500ha (5km2) enclosures. Each of these has a basic concrete 'feeding centre' – essentially a building with a door onto the open enclosure, and bars for windows. The chimps spend almost all of their time outside, but once a day this door is opened, to let them in to the feeding centre. They can then be fed their daily allowance of assorted fruit through the bars, by attendants keeping a safe distance outside – and are close enough to be inspected by the keepers for any health problems. Each enclosure houses a single quasi-family group of 20–30 chimps. These numbers are gradually increasing as the chimps breed successfully.
The rest of the chimps are kept in a variety of pens and large cages, which aren't pretty – but they're almost certainly better than where the animals were before coming here.
In addition to the chimps, Chimfunshi also rehabilitates various local orphaned animals. At any one time, you're likely to find a menagerie of furry, feathered and warm-blooded beings here, all either being nursed back to health, or being kept on after recovering. A typical story is that of Billy, the hippo. At ten days old, she was discovered on the bank of the Kafue, next to the body of her dead mother. She was adopted by Sheila, who kept her in the house when small. Now, at well over 1,500kg, she's fully grown and wanders around the campsite and the farm with nonchalant disregard for her bulk – and anything that gets in the way of it. (Do give her a wide berth, for safety's sake.)
Observe that on Chimfunshi's website (www.chimfunshi.org.za) there's lots of information about the chimps and conservation, yet nothing about visiting or staying at Chimfunshi. This should tell you a lot. The Siddles clearly recognise the financial need for tourists, but generally dislike their presence. They have no background in hospitality, or running lodges, and no wish to get involved at all. However, they do realise that tourism could help to fund more of their rescue work – a thought which clearly influences them. Until this negative attitude towards tourism changes here, Chimfunshi is probably always going to be a slightly disappointing place for the visitor.
The Chimfunshi Trust has had title to a 13,500-acre stretch of land adjacent to Chimfunshi for some years. The northern boundary of this is the Kafue River, which surrounds a large 2,500-acre area of dense forest which may be suitable for chimpanzees. Most of this is covered with thick bush forest, but there are also large grassy areas of river floodplain and several small tributaries of the Kafue River. There is also a patch of tropical forest, which follows a narrow gorge and is particularly beautiful.
There have long been plans to use part of this for a much larger, more natural enclosure – perhaps one that would be partially funded by a proper lodge for visitors. However, the project shows no sign of materialising. Some even comment that Chimfunshi is expanding despite the Siddles, rather than with their blessing.
Chimpanzees are not generally thought to be indigenous to Zambia. Currently the southernmost population of wild chimps is thought to live in a remote (and relatively little-documented) corner of the Rukwa Region of Tanzania – around the Loasi River Forest Reserve on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika.
Chimpanzee distribution in the wild is limited by suitable habitat, and especially by the distribution of suitable vegetation and the wild fruit on which they live. Although there are remaining populations in woodland areas, most occur in moister, thicker forests – where the availability of wild fruits is higher. The relatively open, dry miombo woodlands in northern Zambia wouldn't be a typical habitat, although in some areas chimps do inhabit more arid woodland areas.
Sheila Siddle maintains that chimps could have once lived in Zambia. She cites oral evidence, reported from older local people in Mbala, just south of Lake Tanganyika, who refer to a species of animal which is now extinct in the area as socamuntu, meaning 'like a man'.
Take the tar road from Chingola towards Solwezi for about 40km until there's a sign pointing right (GPS:TUCHIM) to the orphanage. (It's around 125km to get from here to Solwezi.) From this turn-off it's about 18km of poorly-maintained farm track to the orphanage (GPS:CHIMFU); this takes about 30–40 minutes to drive in the dry season.