The Boabeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary

It was difficult to depart from the Mole National Park after two days. But it wasn’t impossible. We knew that our time with Ghana’s wildlife was not yet finished. In fact, our very next excursion would bring us into even closer contact with the animals of Ghana: a visit to the Boabeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary, where monkeys live in absolute harmony with the community.

Who hasn’t dreamed of being in a place where ultra-cute monkeys are so comfortable with humans that they’ll approach you without fear, and even sit on your shoulder? The first time this happened to me at the sanctuary, I felt something like a purring, muted click in my heart — the kind of sensation you only experience when a deeply-held childhood wish has suddenly come true. The mona monkeys of Boabeng-Fiema have learned to trust people, and are absolutely cool hanging out with us. Or sitting on top of us.

Getting to the sanctuary wasn’t the easiest task in the world. As you might expect, the towns of Boabeng and Fiema are well-separated from the rest of humanity, and we were relying on public transportation. We had left Mole at around 8 in the morning, and only arrived at sundown. We were physically exhausted, and still recovering from the mental anguish of a day of navigating Ghana’s bus “system”… but then we sat down in the hostel’s courtyard for a beer, and saw our first monkeys.

These guys were on the move — relocating from their daytime grounds to their nocturnal sleeping trees — and so we didn’t really get up-close-and-personal with them. But we didn’t have long to wait. The next morning, we met our guide at the hostel, and he led us on a path through the woods toward the town of Fiema. Before long, we started hearing some tell-tale squeaking around us… and then we saw little eyes peering at us from the trees.

Any shyness disappeared once we got some peanuts. Alright, I admit: it’s probably not great practice to feed peanuts to wild animals. I’m sure the correct thing to do, according to behaviorists, would have been to watch the monkeys peacefully from a distance. But Jürgen and I aren’t animal behaviorists… the guide was offering us this opportunity… and we’re only human. “Come here tiny monkeys! Come to the ones who love you and will give you all the treats your little hearts desire!”

Within no time, we were mobbed. And we couldn’t have been happier. Some of the monkeys grabbed greedily, others were more thoughtful and tender. The youngsters watched carefully before approaching, and the females with babies wrapped around their stomachs did not hesitate to snatch as many as possible as quickly as possible, before darting back into the branches. One small monkey decided the safest place to be fed was on my shoulder, away from her bigger competition… and there she stayed, happily accepting each peanut I handed her.

Besides the monas, this sanctuary is also home to the more reclusive colobus, who stick mostly to the trees. Today, however, the colobus were feeling braver than normal, and a group had descended to the earth, where they tangled playfully with their smaller counterparts. Our guide had assured us that the two species live in harmony with one another, and that certainly seemed to be the case.

Midway through our visit, there was drama, as we discovered one of the colobus monkeys stuck in a tree, trapped by her own tail, which had somehow become knotted around a branch. Our guide called the park’s rangers (including an American girl), who attempted to free her with a bamboo stick. This was dangerous, because the poor monkey’s screams of terror were interpreted by her family as an attack — especially when they saw the rangers poking her with a long stick — and they came running to her defense. Luckily it all resolved peacefully; the monkey was freed, and the others immediately backed off.

We took a quick walk through the village of Fiema, where monkeys are a sight so common, that their presence inspires absolutely no reaction. How cool must it be as a child to be raised with monkeys? Or maybe not? Maybe these kids would think “How nice must it be, to live in a place without monkeys.” But I doubt it; the people here understand how special this connection is. In fact, our tour ended with a visit to the Monkey Cemetery, where the animals are laid to rest, complete with little tombstones declaring their age, species and gender. (Although suspicions of this cemetery’s legitimacy were immediately raised when I saw a grave-marker with the date, Feb 31, 2012″.)

This trip had been difficult to arrange, but it was completely worth it. Boabeng-Fiema is an amazing place, and hanging out with the monkeys was an experience I doubt I’ll ever forget. I wish I could go back in time, and tell my seven-year-old, monkey-obsessed self… “Just wait. Just another 34 years, and your dreams will come true.”

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