Once upon a Time in the Wild…(or the adventures of a primate research assistant)

Dear People!

I’m Raphaela. I work as a Primate Assistant on Samango Monkeys for the Primate & Predator Project and  am having a great time at Lajuma. My experiences are more than overwhelming- some calm me down, some drive me insane, some make me lose control, some give me a feeling of being home, some make me stronger- Rwoaaaaarr!!

Im happy to share my unforgettable moments and exciting experiences with you – so read on, you won’t regret it (-;

Cheers, Raph

1Picture: Waterfalls at Lajuma, Me. Photograph by Rebecca B.


Photograph by Rebecca B, ‘The Patches’ at Lajuma, Research Centre. Our first Vegetation plot! Happy (-;

Chapter 1 – Getting introduced to the work of a Primate Assistant

After a long journey from Johannesburg up to the adventurous mountain of Lajuma, my lovely friend and co-worker Rebecca (Becki) and I were happy to learn to meet the whole crew of the PPP-Project, including all the lovely girls, such as the Primate & Predator Assistants Sophie, Shannon, Kaja, and Morgane, our lovable Primate Coordinator, Caroline, our precious Bosses Katy & Sam, the crazy people from the ‘Barn’ Tim, Joris and Ed and last but NOT least the Worker’s Crew, Oldrich & Judy & of course: Ian Gaigher.

We got used quickly to the beautiful life at Bush Camp and Caroline transferred us from unknowing, inexperienced chicks into stronger, wiser and more experienced hens! We ripened to viable primate assistants and we’re highly motivated to get started with our first ‘Follow Day’ of Samango Monkeys (Cercopithecus albogularis eryrtharchus) out in the forest!

‘What exactly is my job as a Primate assistant?’

I will tell you !

I am working for the PPP, collecting data and doing all the jobs a volunteer primate assistant is supposed to do and also helping out wherever I’m needed.

Additionally, I am completing my Bachelor Thesis working on Samangos. My aim is to find out whether alpha males in their troops tend to spend more time on ground level than other group members and if so, why. There was a ‘little’ surprise for my research, as the alpha male ‘Otis’, leading the troop since 2005, was kicked out of the Barn troop by ‘Boss’ 21th May 2014, who is now the new leader of Barn troop. I am collecting data on both males, testing also if habituation could also be a potential reason for a higher ground level usage of males, as ‘Otis’ is the habituated and ‘Boss’ the non-habituated male.

I have not seen Otis again since 21th May, which is actually quite sad, but.. anyway. I think we have to admit that the bigger one wins the fight- and Otis is a feather in comparison to Boss. So, hello Boss, good bye Otis ! The group needs new gene-input!

The old great-grandfather, grandpa and father of all the Barn troop kids, Otis.


Now let me present the new, fresh wind in the troop: BOSS, the new leader! The picture of Boss looks like he thinks he sits on the ‘Iron Throne’ haha.


Chapter 2- Mystical experiences

It was a normal ‘following day’ of Samangos, as I saw a mystical object in the shape of a shell of a dinosaur egg lying in a small cave. I was interested, but I didn’t want to remove it without the other people (I am afraid of spiders and snakes (-; , youll never know!). I told the others about my sighted ‘Dinosaur egg’ and as you can imagine- they were almost crying with laughter :-D. We went to the forest to take the Egg out of its cave and brought it to Oldrich, who had a look at it. Well, I have to disappoint you- it is not a mystic, old dinosaur egg. It is POTTERY ! Ooooh I was disappointed.. However, it is something quite old anyway ! 😀

The story of my bad luck begins with this ‘egg’ ! Since I have had the pottery in my room (I put it back the 6th June!) I have bad luck every day. Sophie thinks that I must have angered the Lajuma spirits. No matter what I touch, what I do, it breaks or harms me. Here is a ‘little’ nice list of some of the things that have happened to me after I found the egg:

7May I present: THE DINOSAUR EGG in its cave

8Me and my ‘Baby’

Dino egg curse 1 I fell down with the egg in my arm, stumbled over a slippery rock in the forest directly after I removed the egg out of the cage. It’s irony in itself.

Dino egg curse 2 One day I had to follow House troop, which is the other Samango troop at Lajuma. No Problem, too easy, I thought. Well, I didn’t know that this day would be a total nightmare in the end. I kept following until 3pm, which was almost a full day (at 5 pm you are lucky to have a full day of following). Okay, ‘nothing can stop me now’, I believed. I didn’t knew this territory well yet, because this troop is not the troop I am usually following. So I realized that the monkeys climbed a huge cliff infront of the waterfall lodge. At 3pm. All of them. And I was standing there like a total idiot, a non-primate human, not able to climb a stone wall of 30 metres. As I was so angry because the monkey were sitting on the rocks apparently laughing about me on the ground I assessed the situation and climbed. I mean, at home you can be hit by a car on every corner, which is more dangerous than that. Before I started my climbing session, 5 brave warrior dwarf mongoose cornered me and would not let me through their war-wall. I actually thought about if it would be painful to be bitten by them. I chased them away and eventually got through their stone wall. Ooooh and then I climbed. And fell. I landed on an itchy nettle plant which caused me blisters on my hands and because of the ‘fall’ my trousers ripped on my bum. Adventure started at that point and my anger grew. I tried, again. for a second time. This time it was successful, until 10 metres. I put my backpack first, so that I was more free to climb further. One step- half of my body sticking on the rock like I was melted with it, then I heard the noise of my 3 litre overexagerated water bottle in my backpack, falling 10m down again and hitting the ground. Jaa, what shall I say? I wanted to jump after my backpack in this moment! Well, finally I realized that it would be better to climb down carefully, so I got my backpack back after another 15 minutes. Last scan and then I tried climbing again, this time my third try. I did it ! HAA! I don’t give up so I was proud of myself and happy, no one can ever bring me down, I can do every thing. I was at the top, wanted to scan the troop again, but there was no sound anymore. No grunt, no boom, no Pyow? This is a joke, I thought. WHERE ARE THEY?

I needed to admit, they climbed down again. They were probably laughing at this blond freak climbing up a stone wall like she was crazy. I was almost crying, lost my nerves. Cool, okay. Well, Im Raphaela, so why not climbing down again? I did. At the ground I was crawling like in a military camp because the forest was so thick. By the way, Rebecca told be afterwards that 100 metre north I could find a PATH ! ^^ Oh my, how silly.

I found the monkeys, scanned them, enjoyed the waterfall, cooled my blisters, groomed 17000 plants and branches out of my hair and went back home. On my way I was singing loudly, to keep leopards away. I was always the person who didn’t want to see them at all, because I am totally scared even though they won’t hurt me. On my way on buckbuck trail: LEOPARD ENCOUNTER. Is this NORMAL? At least he was surprised as well and ran away (as if he was more scared than me, haha). I was finished with everything, called Caroline on the radio and the battery is low. AAAH! Caroline heard me at least and gave me the quick tip to use the GPS in order to find another way out. I wanted to grab my GPS. LOST. I lost it on my way, so I had to get back and take it. I have no other words for this story. THE END.

Dino egg curse 3 One week later.I was looking for my monkeys in their sleeping sites to make sure I will find them back in the morning. It wasn’t successful, so because I couldn’t find them I searched longer and at almost every sleeping site. Well, the pottery decided to make the seeking unsuccessful I guess. Okay anyway, I walked back in the dark. My light was dying, because it’s a ridiculous plastic thing with bad batteries. Always the same, so I was used to walk in the almost dark. I almost arrived at Bush Camp, and I saw eyeshine in the dark, approximately 30 metres in front of Bush Camp. I thought it was a dog, Balto or Günther, maybe Meggie or Hazel. No. It kept walking towards me. I saw it, smoooooth and quiet. A leopard. Again! Why me? It was not more than 10 metres between us. This time, the animal didn’t run away, it came a bit closer instead. Can you imagine what I felt? It was a nightmare , I almost died because of a heart attack! I called Caroline on the radio, called Ed because I saw him 5 minutes before on the road, made some noise and walked back slowly. Then the confident leopard took the easy road left and went slowly down the road.

Dino egg curse 4 Well, I have to admit. Maybe this misfortune is more my own fault or missing intelligence of myself. However, it all adds up to a nightmare. I came to the kitchen, Had a nice warm shower before. The dishes fell on me as I removed a cup of the massive range of dishes. All  the water and some nice spicy food rests on my new shirt. Congratulations Raph. Then, I wanted to cook. All my vegetables were in the freezer. I just thought it would be good to put them in the freezer cause they stay fresh longer ? WHAT A STUPID IDEA. Good appetite with matschi lettuce and soft baby gems.

Dino egg curse 5 This was one of the worst bad-luck-experiences. I was out, had a full day of successful following. I got back and wanted to transfer my data sheet on the Primate harddrive, to save it properly. I mean, I know myself and so I wanted to save it. I deleted the other things on the memory card cause no one uses the other sheets. The marking of the other sheets included the new sheet from the whole folling day in it by accident. DELETED: THE END. ONE DAY FOR NOTHING. Anger ruled.

Dino egg curse 6 I followed monkeys. I lost them because of a helicopter in the air above the forest. I kept searching. Again it was 3pm, so to lose them means one day working for almost nothing. I almost ran through the forest to find them. They just disappeared like MAGIC. I fell over a root, at the same instant my arm pushed another branch coming towards my face, hit me directly in the face. POW. Nice feeling anyway.

Dino egg curse 7  A monkey s*** on my shoulder. A nice smell during the entire following day was with me. Mmmh.


I put the egg back in the forest. End of the story. My bad luck will hopefully end.

See also : Monkey falling into a stream. It is a random video I took, but it’s worth it to watch it ! You can find it on Youtube, under this link:  http://youtu.be/xUbhmNDm4OU

Finally, I want to thank all the precious people I met at Lajuma. Thanks to the girls, Sophie, Shannon, Rebecca, Morgane, Caroline and Kaja for so many memorable moments at Bush Camp. You make me feel home. Because of you guys I can watch movies and game of thrones and I understand every word in English 😛 (I’m German, by the way).

Thanks also to Katy & Sam, for every support and help in any case, for all these nice experiences as a member of the PPP Project!

Oldrich & Judy, thank you for the unforgettable holiday at Kruger National Park and Ian, Thank you for your help in any case! Last but not least, Kyle, Ed, Tim & Joris – YOU ROCK !

Although this story includes also scary things and events of bad luck, this made me stronger. I appreciate being a part of the PPP Project and will never forget this precious time. I hope I will have the opportunity to come back someday!

XX, Raphaela


Boma-building with the indescribably powerful PPP-Crew!

10‘Mahala’-Fashion Night at the Barn

11A rainy but funny following day with Tim and Rebecca (Photograph by Rebecca B)

12Kuckuck! Searching for some possible snacks at Bush Camp – no success 😛

13Me on ‘Scout’, Horse riding at Leshiba Wilderness




2 thoughts on “Once upon a Time in the Wild…(or the adventures of a primate research assistant)

  1. Guido Heesen

    Absolutely great and ambitious content, brilliant written!!
    I’ m proud of being your dad💋❤️️👍


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