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Utterly monkey

Telegraph

When he saved an abused chimpanzee in Sierra Leone while on military duty, Jez Hermer could not have anticipated that he would soon become a key figure in global primate conservation. By Elizabeth Grice Jez Hermer was on morning patrol in a village near Daru, a rebel-surrounded enclave in Sierra Leone, when he heard a distressed, high-pitched squealing that reminded him of something he had heard as a boy. # TV tribute for Monkey World founder # In pictures: Monkey life It was like the screaming of a chimpanzee he remembered from watching Tarzan on television in the 1970s. As he rounded the corner, he found a group of young children taunting a chimpanzee that was tied round the neck with a piece of string. The creature was being thrown around like a ball. Chimpanzee A chimpanzee at the Monkey World sanctuary, which provides shelter for more than 150 rescued primates It was August 2000. To this day, Major Hermer, ex-Royal Marines, does not know what compelled him to investigate the minor ruckus. He was a military observer for the United Nations, liaising between two warring factions: the Sierra Leone Army and the Revolutionary United Front. He and his men were living in mud huts in Daru, in an area protected by the 5/8 Gurkha Rifles, an Indian battalion, but they were vulnerable and under regular attack. The conflict had reached a tense stage. Hermer, in charge of operations, had plenty to do. 'Something really forced me to go out,' he says. 'I was intrigued. I am not a particularly spiritual person and I don't believe in fate but, for the first time in my life, I heard a voice in my head and it said, "Go and check that out. It will change your life."?' At the sight of him, the chimpanzee held out its arms as if begging to be picked up. 'He latched on to my leg. He stank. He was covered in festering sores. He was really just a bag of bones. It didn't take an expert to see he was in a very bad condition and didn't have long to live. But I knew so little about these things I thought a couple of bananas would fix the problem.' The hunter who owned the baby chimp had probably shot and eaten the mother and her troop as part of the bushmeat trade, leaving the orphaned baby as a plaything. Hermer named him Harry. Though about 14 months old, the chimpanzee should still have been inseparable from its mother, riding everywhere on her back. Hermer felt he had no choice but to take it back to base that evening. 'In my career in war zones, I have seen the suffering of both humans and animals, and you get pretty hardened to harsh conditions and desperate sights. But there is something about a primate that means you have more of a connection. He was a sorry sight, frightened and sick. I had to do something.' advertisement Click to learn more... Like so many small impulses and actions, Hermer's moment of compassion had far-reaching consequences. 'I have always been an animal lover, but with Harry I didn't have a clue what I was getting into,' he says. The decision not only thrust him into a bruising encounter with wildlife conservation politics, but it also changed the course of his life. Seven years on, Hermer, 38, has left the Marines with 15 years of his commission still to run and is helping to run the world's largest ape-rescue centre, Monkey World, a 65-acre sanctuary in Dorset. It is the place he had phoned for help, back in 2000, when he was at his wits' end to know how to look after Harry. Monkey World is a few miles from where Hermer and his wife, Jenny, lived in Poole. Jim Cronin, the centre's charismatic late owner and his wife, Alison, were well known through their ITV television series, Monkey Business, a sort of primates' soap opera. Hermer, marooned in the jungle, asked Jenny to ring the sanctuary for advice. 'I was able to get fluids into Harry, as well as bananas. I dressed his wounds, using my Army medical pack. But Harry was riddled with worms and other ailments. I needed professional advice.' Hermer was working up to 20 hours a day and had to admit that a dependent, disease-ridden chimpanzee was not the ideal messmate. Certain colleagues agreed. Their initial reactions had ranged from 'Let's eat him' to 'Let's fix him up.' Hermer considered giving Harry to Tacugama, a chimpanzee rehabilitation centre in Freetown. 'I had an evening of deep contemplation,' Hermer says. 'I wasn't prepared to euthanise him and I wasn't keen to hand him over to an organisation I knew was strapped for cash. My superiors regarded Harry as an unnecessary distraction and I could see their point of view. I was supposed to be in command. Even when I'd weaned him off my leg and on to my shoulder, he still needed attention 24 hours a day.' The chimpanzee was grudgingly allowed to stay and slowly began to gain weight, thanks to medication and a regime of baby milk formula (helicoptered in from Freetown), recommended by Cronin. Hermer started to teach him to climb trees. But Harry's growing independence was a problem; he was strong, bad-tempered and had begun to terrorise the camp. 'Instead of being clingy, he started acting like an out-of-control toddler,' Hermer says. 'He was as strong as me, and it took all my strength to wrest something from him.'

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