Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Chimpanzee Caregiver


Chimpanzee Caregiver

Position likely to start in June 2021 and last a minimum of six months. Please read the job description below carefully. Ideally this position is suited to someone who is retired or close to retirement but not exclusively so. It is however very important that any applicant has experience with Chimpanzees. If genuinely interested please send a letter accompanied by your full CV to me, Peter Dickinson at and mark it clearly Chimpanzee Caregiver in the subject line. You will have no response from me as I will forward genuinely interested applicants details onto the hiring party.

The Ammanns

Karl and Kathy Ammann (originally from Switzerland and America respectively) have lived in Kenya for over 40 years, for most of that time in Nanyuki, in the countrys Central Highlands. 

Karls work involves various conservation and animal welfare projects and involves a lot of travelling. The Ammanns were away from home on average about 1- 2 weeks a month, but now travel way less because of the COVID-19 situation and reduced need for travels. They work with a volunteer to assist caring for their 2 chimpanzees a bunch of dogs , and to manage the property and the staff of 6 when they are away. Plus there might be some administrative work involving Karl’s documentary filming and photography 

The Chimps

Mzee (pronounced ma-zay, meaning 'old man' in Kiswahili, male, 35 yrs) &'Bili' (female,22 yrs) are kept in very secure large electrified forest enclosures and are well adapted to their daily routines.  Nevertheless, being of such an intelligent and physically powerful species, they require someone with experience and knowledge of primate behavior, cognizant of the importance of adhering to daily routines, of checking and re-checking that locks are secured, etc..., and able to manage (in Karls absence) whatever challenges they may potentially, but infrequently , present.

Mzee is a bushmeat orphan whom the Ammanns first encountered while traveling on the Congo River in 1986.  Adopted by them in his infancy, he is a very humanized chimp, affable and affectionate, normally very easy-going, good-spirited and remarkably gentle.  When they are home, the Ammanns and Mzee resume their close familial interactions.  Before long Mzee will become a close and trustworthy friend. 

Bili was named for the village in northern DRC where Karl found her in 1998.  She had been living there as a bushmeat orphan and fending for herself for her first two or three years, before being brought to the Ammanns home and introduced as Mzee's companion.  She is therefore less humanized than Mzee, exhibits a few more wild characteristics and a greater wariness of humans, and thus winning her trust and tolerance entails more time and patience.  Bilis temperament varies further with her estrous cycle, which dictates subtle changes in her degrees of docility, solitariness and predictability.

One end of Bilis enclosure adjoins Mzees, into which the assistant lets Bili through every morning and where she gets her breakfast.  After spending the morning with Mzee, Bili goes back into her own enclosure at 11:30, and gets her lunch there.  The opposite end of Bilis enclosure adjoins the Ammanns guesthouse, where the assistant lives, and where Bili also has a very secure room and spends the night.  She often likes to come close to the house when the assistant is there, at lunch time for example, for company, enrichment and play time.

At 16:30 every day, after making Bilis bed and putting her dinner in her room, the assistant lets Bili in for the night.  As housemates, the assistant must thereafter respect Bilis need for calm and quiet; she loves her bed and if moderately undisturbed, will sleep soundly throughout the night.

When the Ammanns are away, the assistant feeds both chimps their breakfast at 7:00, their lunch at 11:30, and puts them to bed and feeds them their dinner at 16:30 every day. 

The chimpanzee meals are assembled by the staff, who also let both chimps out at 6:30 in the morning and clean their rooms.

The Work with Karl

Depending on the level of interest and expertise Karl might look for assistance related to his work, be it for researching information, proofreading and/or editing material, logging video footage, help on the computer, etc.  For example, he usually returns from trips with video footage that needs to be logged, labeled and organized so that the content can be found, within a library of thousands of hours of personal tapes and hard drives, when needed.  The various tasks involve familiarity and usage of such equipment and technologies as video cameras, computers, printers, DVD recorders and copiers, internet, video conferencing, etc...

At the moment there are no new documentary projects in the pipeline and as such the demand for the level of assistance is likely to decline

When traveling, Karl stays in close touch with the assistant by email, text, WhatsApp and/or cell phone. The assistant informs Karl when both chimps are in for the night, and keep him informed of any problems as they arise.

The volunteer has an office upstairs of the Ammanns’ house and if there is an active project might need attendance from 08:30 to 16:30, with a one-hour lunch break and two or more 20-30 minutes play/enrichment periods with each chimps (going in in the enclosure with Mzee, but staying outside the enclosure with Bili).

Other Responsibilities

When the Ammanns are home, the assistant is generally free to do their own thing .  Specific requests for off time, and exploring the Laikipa Samburu area is in accordance with Karls evolving travel schedule, can be discussed with him in advance. 

When the Ammanns are away, however, the assistant is expected to remain home as much as possible and within reason.  Though intermittent throughout the day, the assistants responsibilities involving the chimps are fairly simple and not particularly time-consuming.  The assistant minimally needs to be home to feed the chimps and bring them inside at the routine times, and must remain reachable by cellphone and able to return home with minimal delay if the need arises.  The assistant is also required to go to town twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays morning, to do chimp food and other necessity shopping, collect the mail, pay the occasional bill, etc...  Kathy Ammann will leave the assistant with some petty cash and an accounts book in which to record expenses and keep receipts. The assistant also distribute pay slips to the staff, and collect and monitor their work time punching on a monthly basis or so.

From the Ammanns property, is a 20-30 min. drive into Nanyuki, an increasingly bustling town with all basic conveniences, several banks with ATMs, two small shopping centers, each with a large department store and various smaller boutiques.  There is also a pleasant private Cottage Hospital where competent care and treatment is available.   

The Location

Nanyuki lies along the Equator, in the center of the nation, and at an elevation of 1,947m above sea-level, is the 14th highest town in Africa. It is approximately 3-hour drive or 45-min. flight north of Nairobi, on the foothills of Mount Kenya.  The climate is temperate, with chilly nights and daytime temperatures rarely exceeding 25° C.  Seasons were normally defined by dry periods alternating with periods of rain (the short rains in October and November and the long rains from March to June).  The rainfall in Nanyuki is significant, with precipitation sometimes happening even during the driest month, but with a fairly predictable daily pattern. Recently however, as everywhere else on the planet, the rains have been increasingly erratic. The average annual temperature is 16.2 °C (approximately 23°C during the day and 9°C at night).

Approximately 15 kms from town, the Ammanns property is bordering the Fairmont Mount Kenya Safari Club, with a view on Mount Kenya and on the forested edge of Mount Kenya National Park. The assistants house (the Ammanns guesthouse) is peaceful and private, a short walk but well removed from the Ammanns’ house, in the forest.  It has 2 bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen, living room with a fireplace and large deck, and is well furnished.  Water, electricity, internet and satellite TV are provided (connections are established throughout the residence and covers the guesthouse).

It is encircled by an electric fence and overlooks a small clearing with a salt lick, which is visited by and abundant birdlife and various wildlife, including 3 species of monkeys (Black and white Colobus, Sykes, and Baboons), water buffalos, waterbuck, bushbucks and occasionally elephants, zebras and other.

Also provided is a recent and reliable Suzuki Jimny, available for the assistants work-related and personal use. 

The assistant is responsible for his or her own food, cooking, cleaning and laundry, as well as basic vehicle and minor house maintenance. For general maintenance tasks and cleaning the gardeners and the main house staff will assist.

Visa and Length of Stay

Visitors to Kenya usually enter the country on a 3-month tourist visa; if they wish to remain for an additional 3 months, a second 3-month visa is generally easily obtained.  After 6 months, however, visitors must leave East Africa (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania) for a minimal period before they can return to Kenya, apply for another tourist visa and re-enter the country for another 3 months. Therefore, preference will be given to those prospective assistants willing to make a 3-year commitment and undergo the process of applying for a Class K (or retired residency) permit with the Kenya Dept. of Immigrations. This confers Temporary Residency status for a period of 3 years, while disallowing paid employment for the period of the respective permits a stipend and allowances will however be negotiated.

With past volunteers having stayed up to six years, we are at this point looking for a candidate that would consider a longer time career / time of commitment, since flying in new candidates, interviewing and training them is costly and time consuming.  The longer-term career option involves a full time retirement setting and getting involved in the trust setup we have for the chimps, which will be there for as long as they live.

Under the trust setting the financial setup will allow hiring of third parties for any aspect that can’t be taken care of without third party involvement, including the existing staff of six that are well trained.  The residence could also be used for further conservation related activities, including sponsoring research in the area and maybe housing visiting researchers. The overall scope will thus depend on the individual regarding the level of activity they are looking for.

There are already a number of trustees with experience in chimp husbandry and Africa, and the idea is to meet with them once a year, on site, to plan activities, budgets etc. The financial resources will be more than adequate to deal with all of the above.

We are considering to fly in any prospective candidate for an interview and seeing the operation, hoping that the handover can be accomplished within a six month period (the latest starting point potentially extending to September or October), with a with a two-week handover period involving the current assistant.


This vacancy has been posted out to the many thousands who read the popular Zoo Jobs Blog Page and then on to the 129,400 plus followers of the  ZooNews Digest Facebook Page. It is then immediately forwarded on to Twitter and then to Pinterest and Linkedin (8,000+ connections). Many vacancies are shared to individuals and groups. In short your vacancy will have the potential of reaching something in the region of some 80,000 plus people within 24 hours. Most of these people are working in a zoo environment, Keepers, Curators, Vets, Zoo Directors, Trainers, Aquarists and more.

ZooNews Digest has subscribers in over 1200 Zoos in 150+ countries. Zoo professionals are International.

The number of people who will actually read the posted vacancy  will actually be considerably less. Usually this will be between two hundred and three thousand. This will depend on the type of post, the time of the year and where it is located…of course not all will apply. I wish you the very best of luck in finding the right candidate for your post.

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Peter Dickinson
Independent International Zoo Consultant

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