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Poco, the attention-seeking chimp

Catherine Njiru @ PeopleDailyKe

Picture this: spending the first nine years of your life in a cage suspended above a workshop. Yes as a way to catch the fancy of customers. But why would this be a crowd-pleaser anyway? You might ask.

Well, because he is Poco, a chimpanzee who was incarcerated in a miniscule cage, where he was only able to sit or stand on two legs. He might be 98.6 per cent human, but he became human, in that Burundi workshop. Courtesy of the Kenya Tourism Board trip, we were going to meet this guy Poco later in the day. Somewhere in Olpejeta Sweetwaters Chimpanzee sanctuary.

Located 23km from Nanyuki town and 273km from Nairobi, Olpejeta is the closest place to Nairobi where you can get to see the Big Five. Just three hours drive from the city means, you can easily escape for the weekend, or even just do it in a day, it’s just Nanyuki. Speaking of which, who would believe that in my… (censored) years in this sphere, I just learned that Nanyuki is actually in the Rift Valley?

I always thought Nanyuki was in central. Well, we can blame it on ignorance, but there’s something about Nanyuki and central that seems yoke. Kind of a relationship made in heaven, anyone? Ok, fine Rift Valley.

But just don’t be surprised how many people out there think Nanyuki is actually in central province. So, as we drove through the gates inside the conservancy, I was expecting some serious ‘African massage’- one of the ingredients to a perfect game drive. I was disappointed; the roads here weren’t bumpy, smooth all the way, but really dusty.

I was kinda used to these drives by now, but not a single one prepared me for the surprise ahead. Ride with me. As we drove past the usual suspects; zebras, giraffes, antelopes and a million species of birds, there they were, two of them. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw such amazing creatures in the foreground. The lions were sleeping, more of power napping after a heavy meal, if the carcass on the ‘dining table’ was anything to go by. It was like a scene out of the Lion King.

I was thinking Mufasa and Simba. From that moment, Hakuna Matata kept replaying in my head. They looked humungous than I ever imagined, but seeing them together made me look at them differently. Not that I would go petting one, but they came across carefree in their existence and friendly, to say the least. Then we drove past a heard of elephants.

I love just how casual this ‘past elephants’ sounds. But I’ve been hanging around these guys for a while, they’re family now! We were finally at the chimpanzee sanctuary. And I was thinking Poco, Poco, Poco.

Our guide gave some background information about the chimps. How they are 98.6 per cent human and how they live in two groups and well, if any of the chimps decides to punch you, you’ll be dealing with over 10kg damage.

And if he gives two…do your math! Then we went to some sort of ‘watchtower’ where we watched the chimps. ‘Auuu auuuuu oooo oooooh ooh’ our guide tried calling as we waited impatiently to catch sight of them.

Some more auuuus and ooooohs later…Max, the bad boy (I’m not taking questions please) bounced his way out of the bush. Our guide said Max’s a naughty one, and as if to confirm, he did something cheeky with his tongue, we laughed, but where was Poco? “Poco must be on the other side,” our guide assured.

And well, could we go find him yet? But he was not promising that we would actually spot him. So we walked past the safety cage, where visitors are advised to lock themselves in. We were asked to press the padlock because they can actually open the lock, so aggressive! Then inside the fence, right there next to some bush, a chimp sat and stared at us. ‘There’s Poco, the guide said and I was elated.

At 39, Poco is the oldest guy around. Remember when I mentioned that he’d only sit and walk on twos while confined? Even at that moment, Poco stood on his legs. Our guide promised that he would definitely stand and walk because apparently, he likes dem girls. Well, there were like eight of us, so… the quorum was intact. We stood on the edge of the fence and…Boom!

Poco stood and walked -tippy toes- for us. Yes for us, because he kept looking at us while doing it -what a show- off! An attention seeker, Poco is one of the more gentle chimpanzees, and his bipedal swagger ensures he stands out from the crowd.

He sure did and he got me, I was impressed. He was definitely my type. If also you thought Nanyuki was in central, you need to tembea Kenya and see this guy Poco and friends, rhinos as well, there was just so much to experience, a day wasn’t enough.

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