It is always interesting to be reminded of things that I should have written down, but didn’t, so when an NBC crew recently reminded me of a very interesting day I had back in 2009 I decided it was worth relating. We were called to pick up a load of cargo in the middle of the forest, five chimpanzees that had been rescued from the pot by some very nice people, and we were to take them to the ICCN (Congo government national parks) sanctuary in Bukavu. It meant a lot of flying with no real place to fuel along the way, so Joey Lincoln and I filled the Caravan as full of fuel as we could and then put a couple more drums in the plane to refuel from when we got to Akethi.
We landed to find a bit of a battle going on between a local “official” and the people we were picking up. He wanted thousands of dollars from them for the right to move the chimps. All their paperwork was already in order, but it was from the capital and we were not in the capital. Some might wonder why our mission is flying wild animals, but MAF looks for opportunities to work with the country in ways that promote stability so we will fly teachers’ salaries and medical people and sometimes ballots for elections and even do wildlife conservation flying. I love this part of the work and meet many interesting people who I get to interact with.
Anyway, we had a very long day and could not waste a lot of time so I told Joey to fill the plane with fuel while I loaded the chimps. We require animals to be in cages in the plane, and these were in cages, but they were hand made out of small boards and local materials from the bush so, even as we were loading, chimps were getting out. It was pretty hectic and the biggest chimp was very strong. It was a mission to get it back in the box even though the chimp was partially sedated. When she was finally back inside, I secured the cargo net over the whole lot and got everything else ready. While I was wrapping up, the “official” was “discussing” the movement permit validity closely with Laura, one of the rescuers. Like at a 2 inch distance from her nose. We decided to just leave our empty fuel drums there to be collected at a later time and, when the arguing seemed fairly finished we loaded the people and the last baby chimp. But just as we started to close the last door the officious man came back to say we were actually not done because he still wanted money. Joey told him we had to go due to time limitations, turned the master on and yelled, “Clear Prop”, hitting the starter for just a second. The men quickly got out of the way and we then truly started up and left. It was great to break ground and be on our way and Laura and Adam were visibly relieved to be out of there.
The rest of the trip was relatively uneventful. We were greeted by the ICCN Parks people at the destination airport and the chimps were safe. It was good to help these animals and be a part of helping Congo to succeed. The story is supposed to air on the early morning Sunday edition of the NBC Today show for those who would like to have a look. I have not seen it so I hope it is accurate. Check it out. http://www.today.com/money/mission-love-meet-couple-who-found-love-while-rescuing-chimps-t92611 There are some beautiful shots of Congo in there and of our plane landing over the camera crew. It was an interesting and unusual day at the office.