Rest in Peace Dear Bouka
Rest in Peace Bouka
~ July 2018 – September 2, 2020
Bouka was confiscated in the Cameroon city of Douala in July 2018. In Cameroon’s Douala dialect, the word bouka means “to overcome, endure, rise above or pull through”, and the little guy had indeed survived a lot. Upon arrival at Sanaga-Yong, he was all skin and bones with very little muscle mass. His body size was that of a three-year-old, but his teeth indicated that he was at least six years old. Extreme malnutrition coupled with strict confinement in a tiny cage had severely stunted Bouka’s growth. At the sanctuary, he gratefully munched cabbage, green peppers, string beans and tomatoes, happily smacking his lips as he ate. He preferred the savory vegetables over sweet fruits, which was rare for a juvenile. While his physical health improved quickly, he was emotionally fragile and unskilled socially, and his anxiety and fear made other chimps nervous.
Bouka’s first friend at Sanaga-Yong was confident, socially smart little Gnala, a slightly younger chimpanzee. The two of them were introduced to Bikol’s group of five adults, and with Gnala’s patient encouragement, Bouka gradually made friends with the chimps there – starting with emotionally damaged Utah. Bouka’s friendship with Utah helped her as much as it did him. Also rescued in 2018, Utah had socially isolated herself to a large extent, but she came out of her shell laughing and playing with Bouka. After Bouka eventually established comfortable relationships with all the chimpanzees in the little community, he was able to go out in the forest with them – to feel the earth beneath his feet and climb trees for the first time in years.
Bouka always adored his people. If he wanted to play, he stuck his tongue out and bounced up and down on all fours until his target couldn’t resist his gorgeous face another second. His favorite water game – lying on his back, mouth wide in a play face and wriggling around in fits of laughter while someone poured water over his body from a pitcher – could entertain him as long as a friend was available to indulge him. With his feet wet, he loved to slip slide across the cement floor of his sleeping cage. He so enjoyed being tickled and was very sensitive to it; the slightest touch sent him squirming away in hysterics, only to return 3 seconds later for another delightful touch. Bouka was also an extremely gentle groomer, often holding a human hand so tenderly in his bigger one as he softly wiped away the dirt.
At eight years old, he was kind and handsome and just entering adolescence. We thought he had a long life ahead of him at the sanctuary, but tragically, he died of a respiratory infection (Covid negative) on September 2nd. His loss has hurt us deeply, but it has strengthened our commitment to our mission. In his memory, we will fight harder than ever for every chimp who has suffered or is suffering, and for all those still living free in Africa’s fragile forest environment.
From Co-Manager Jodie Preece to Bouka: You brought everyone who knew you joy and gave us lasting memories. You were so loved here and you will not be forgotten. I hope your spirit is living free in the forest, somewhere where you should have been all along. You will stay with me forever.
Photos courtesy of Dana Vion