My second home with the chimpanzees

By Laura TomassiniMisch Pautsch Switch to German for original article

A life like that of the US gorilla researcher Dian Fossey, but limited in time: veterinarian Claudie Reyland lives with primates for several weeks every year. The Luxembourger is a volunteer at the "Projet Primates" in Guinea and tells us what everyday life is like as a chimpanzee surrogate mother and bush veterinarian.

In 2014, Claudie Reyland was drawn to the bush of Guinea for the first time to volunteer with an animal protection organisation to care for chimpanzee orphans. The veterinarian developed her affinity for West Africa during her childhood, which was shaped by her grandmother's stories. "My Bomi was a very interesting woman. She lived in the Belgian Congo, where my mother was born, " explains the 57-year-old. The pictures and stories from the faraway country inspired the young Claudie – someday she too would travel to Africa. "Not to go on holiday, though. I wanted to go there to work", the veterinarian specifies.

At university, it finally became clear what exactly the student would be doing in Africa. "I had a lecturer in behavioural research who was fascinated by gorillas." Researchers like the famous Dian Fossey became Claudie's role models and it was clear to her: she wanted to meet the apes herself. "After all, they are our closest cousins." But life intervened: Years passed in which family and career came first and the trained veterinarian devoted herself to other animals. "I actually became a veterinarian because I was really into horses, " the 57-year-old reveals. She spent her first twelve years in the profession working with another veterinarian, and in between she was a meat inspector in a slaughterhouse. "That was interesting, but I'd rather not be that anymore", Claudie says with a laugh.

The odyssey into the bush

Over time, the veterinarian changed direction and specialised in smaller patients. First in Neudorf, then in Junglinster, she built up her clientele and still works in the two-person cabinet today. But Claudie's dream of getting to know her grandmother's homeland always remained in the back of her mind until the opportunity finally presented itself to her at the age of 50. "My children were out of the house, I was separated and had no one to look after. So it was "now or never", the 57-year-old recalls. She set out to find primate rescue stations and centres that offered a place for volunteers. Two addresses came into Claudie's sight: the "Help" project in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the 'Projet Primates' in Guinea. "I eventually dropped the former, as the Congo was too politically unsafe for me."

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My second home with the chimpanzees


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