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Helmsley businesswoman keeps on fighting for the great apes

Lynn Hempsall plans 2021 visits to Uganda and Borneo as rescue and conservation organisations struggle with the effects of Covid-19

A Helmsley businesswoman who has made several visits to Uganda and Borneo over recent years to help protect the great apes is raising awareness of rescue organisations which are struggling due to the impact of Coronavirus.

It is thought that, just like us, gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees and bonobos could be susceptible to Coronavirus. With that risk, plus the stop on international travel, many of the great ape rescue and protection organisations have been unable to fundraise or welcome volunteers who would help raise vital money. The great apes are dramatically depleting in numbers and will likely become extinct in the next 20 years due to the logging and deforestation of their habitat.

Lynn Hempsall, owner of Helmsley Traditional Sweetshop, has visited both Borneo and Uganda twice over the last five years in a bid to help raise awareness and much needed funds for organisations involved in the protection and rehabilitation of the great apes, as well as volunteering at local schools. Her most recent trip to Borneo in November 2019 saw her raising £2,098 to help fund medical equipment, which she was then able to deliver in person.

Despite having decided that her travelling days were over and she would instead help from a distance, the impact of the current pandemic has convinced Lynn to plan more visits next year to both destinations, if restrictions allow. She has also launched a sweet-themed charity fundraiser, with special bags of foam bananas available from Helmsley Traditional Sweet Shop, with £1 from each bag sold going to help related charities.

Lynn said: “I watched the series Primate, and seeing yet more murders of the rangers who care for the mountain gorillas and the continuation of the destruction of forests for palm oil plantations made me realise I need to go back and help out again. So next year I will be returning to Uganda to take supplies for the children to use for their education and then I’ll tackle a tougher trip to Indonesia, this time to Sumatra where I may yet get to see an orangutan in the wild. I certainly never imagined a few years ago that I would be sleeping in jungles and taking trips with armed guards hoping for a rare glimpse of a mountain gorilla!

“People have previously been so kind with their donations and I know in the current climate things are very tough for lots of people. But if anyone can spare any money, it would be so hugely appreciated – I can’t tell you what it means to the local communities and the amazing work they do. I know how hard the people in Uganda work to protect the mountain gorillas and educate locals and school children. All trips to see these amazing creatures have been stopped for months, not just because tourists cannot get there, but because we could take the virus to these very poor countries that have very little medical care and are still at risk from Ebola – and it is also thought that the mountain gorillas could be wiped out by the virus.”

Lynn continued: “On my trips over there, these people have become my friends. I’ve worked closely with the local schools and I keep in regular contact with them. The school children are amazing, they have nothing yet want so passionately to help save the forests and the creatures in them. It worries me how they are all under the same threat from Covid-19 as us – but without any of the same medical facilities we have. It is a similar story out in Indonesia where the two rescue centres I visited last November are both on total lockdown. Even in 2019 I had to have blood tests, medical certificates and chest x-rays to prove I was well before I was allowed in – and I had to be at least 10 metres away from any of the orangutan orphans wearing a protective mask. Coronavirus could wipe out the whole rescue centre if it got in. But again, as with Uganda, this has left the centres with very little income or means of fundraising.”

Anyone interested in donating can do so directly to the charities Lynn has worked with. Alternatively Lynn is also selling special charity bags of foam bananas. A 250g size bag can be bought online for free local or national delivery, with £1 from each sale going to the Great Apes charities. Bags for £1 will be available in the shop once it is able to reopen, with every penny going to the charity.

Lynn finishes: “Although there were lots of things I saw which broke my heart there were many wonderful moments. One orphaned orangutan had gone through baby school, infant school, jungle school and had graduated to a pre-release island with other orangutans. While on the island she gave birth to a baby and we watched her care for the baby from a small canoe at a distance with zoom lenses on our cameras. It was magical. Three days after I arrived back home I received the news that she had been released into the wild with her baby into a protected forest and is doing really well – 12 years after she arrived at the centre alone after her mother had been murdered. That’s why I want to keep helping.”

For more information on the plight of the orangutans and how you can help, visit:

OVAID – www.ovaid.org

International Animal Rescue – www.internationalanimalrescue.org/protecttheforest

BOSF – www.orangutan.or.id