Our new gorilla girl at the Dallas zoo is three weeks old and her name is Saambili.
(sam-BEE-lee) I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anything cuter!
I have a dog named Haley. She’s an “English Cream” golden retriever. We also have Troy who is a regular golden retriever although huge at 100 pounds. So maybe not so regular. Troy and I are bonded at the hip, thank god. I paid a fortune for Haley as she is supposedly “ring trained and pure bred” both of which mean nothing to me. I was, at the time, frantic to try and replace a female dog named Rosie. Rosie was a Catahoula, a breed that is not recognized by AKC, maybe because it’s in their DNA to be very aggressive. It’s been YEARS and this is the first time I’ve had the strength to write about Rosie. I’m crying as I write.
Rosie and I were soul mates. I know animals well and I know the really intelligent ones domestic or in captivity need what is called “enrichment”. It is creating things the animals can do to use their innate skills, intelligence, ingenuity and natural tendencies. Just like the Chimps and gorillas at the zoo, of whom I’m an amatuer expert and volunteer to speak about their intelligence, relationships, behaviors, etc., very smart domestic animals need it, too. Rosie was so darn smart, I knew she needed it. When I took her to agility training for the first time the trainer was astounded.
“Oh, so you are very experienced working together in agility.” I said, “No, this is the first time we’ve ever done agility but we are soul mates and we get each other.” She couldn’t believe it.
I had so many close calls with Rosie in aggressive situations. She would over power me even when I had her on leash. She just wanted to attack everything! (She adored me and was protective and completely loving toward me.) And she was capable of it and seemed to be looking for it. I was filled with anxiety constantly and knowing there was a legal liability if she ever did anyone harm. But also knowing I couldn’t keep her if she continued this aggression! It was torture. Finally, at a lunch I had at my house for some women friends, she attacked and bit a woman. I knew that was the end.
The next morning, my husband and I cried together knowing that we had we had to put her down. Thank god we had the support of our friend Debbie Hartel who is an RN to help us through that. It was one of the most painful times in my entire life. I ADORED that dog and she adored me. I can’t wait to see her again at the rainbow bridge.
I asked my husband a year or so ago if he remembered how I sat on the chaise lounge in the bedroom where I used to be with Rosie in the evenings and cried for 3 months each night after she died. He said, “Andrea, you did that for a YEAR!”
Back to Haley. I never bonded with her. I think I resented her for not being Rosie. I have faked it for her sake. She is very loyal to me. Tonight, I looked in her innocent eyes and realized I need to just love her. So that’s what I’m going to do.
There’s Rosie in front of gorgeous Ryder.
One day, years ago, I was taking a walk with my mother and my beloved Golden Retriever. I always carry around a fear about how long my dogs are going to live and I asked my mother, “How long do you think Brandy will live?”
“Oh, 11 or 12, how old is she now?” my mother asked.
“She’s 14,” I replied.
That dog lived until 17 years old and those were the days before I knew what designer dog food was and her entire life I fed her “Skippy” from the grocery store.
“The Week” is what I would describe as a News Literary Journal. It sums up the prior week succinctly and in nice little sound bites. The Editor in Chief’s name is William Falk. He doesn’t always write the editor’s letter as other editors sometimes do, but I love it when he does because he is an amazing thinker and writer.
I was lounging around the other day reading The Week. I came upon an article called How They See Us: Europe Loses Faith in America. I was appalled at a comparison that was made and immediately went to my computer to email William Falk.
Here is my email to Customer Service that had “For William Falk” in the subject line:
I’ve been getting your mag since the beginning. I love it. You are a wonderful editor and an incredibly skilled writer. I LOVE it when you are the one who writes the editor’s letter.
There is something that has upset me in your June 9, 2017 issue of The Week. In the article called, How they see us: Europe loses faith in America, the author says and I quote, “Trump even physically shoved aside the Montenegrin prime minister as NATO leaders gathered for a photo, displaying the “diplomatic grace of an orangutan.”
I am an amateur expert on the great apes. This is actually a disgrace in comparing the gentle, diplomatic Orangutan to this frightening president. Whoever wrote this piece (and it doesn’t say who) needs to research the great apes before using them irresponsibly for comparison in their articles for your publication. I encourage you to demand this writer go to a zoo where there are Orangutans and observe them for a considerable amount of time. This person clearly knows NOTHING about great apes, the comparison was an outrage and that person should not be using them in an article.
With frustration and the best to you,
A day or two later I received an auto response that they appreciated my contact but that they receive so many emails there was no way they could respond to every one.
Yeah, of course, I thought, and not many people care so much about the great apes, anyway. And what Editor in Chief of a major news magazine is going to care? I still felt good about fighting for apes though.
I got home late from the zoo today. I talked to a lot of people about gorillas and chimpanzees and I was tired. I saw on my phone that I had several emails so I went to my computer with the intention of answering or getting rid of as many of them as I could in the shortest time possible.
And then, as I scanned the inbox content, my eyes landed on an email from “Bill” Falk.
I was stunned, actually. Here is his email to me:
Dear Ms. Thompson,
Your point is well taken, and I am sorry we let Tom Peck of the London Independent insult the great apes. (It was his piece that we were quoting from, as we indicated in the magazine.) I would guess that Peck believes orangutans and other apes sometimes engage in territorial displays. Hence, the comparison to Trump.
I envy you your life’s work. I am fascinated by apes of all kinds whenever I go to a zoo; they are so clearly related to us, and yet so different. The intelligence in their eyes always gives me goosebumps.
I’m a softy and this made me cry. Here is my response to him:
Thanks so much for your response. I received a auto-response from your team saying there is no way you guys can answer every email you get so I’m honored that an issue about apes rendered your reply. I am thrilled you are fascinated by great apes. I know what you mean about the goosebumps. Many, many people say that. The latest statistics are saying we share 98.8 percent the same DNA with Chimpanzees. In fact, Chimpanzees are more closely related to humans than they are to Gorillas! The apes feel like brothers and sisters to me and I love them so deeply. When I look into their eyes it calms my soul. I love them way more than I love most people.
What bugged me, of course, is Peck’s comment comparing an Orangutan in any way to Trump, but I get your take on it. Orangutans have a lot more diplomatic grace in every way than Trump. In fact, when they do territorial displays, they make sense and are for a very clear purpose. I’m not seeing this with Trump.
Please recycle your electronics (phones, tablets, computers, etc.) at an electronics recycling facility to minimize the need to go to Africa and mine for a mineral in our electronics called Coltan. The great apes are losing their natural habitats at an alarming rate because of this mining and the Coltan from old stuff can be removed and used in the new electronics. Google “electronics recycling” in your area.
All the best and thanks again. And thanks for the awesome magazine!
A chair and a whip in front of an innocent lion who was born in captivity and has never known anything else?? One time that animal was a sweet, innocent cub with eyes barely open looking for mommy. Now she’s being abused on a daily basis and has no choice in the matter and no one is speaking out for her.
A social animal like a chimp in a cage alone only let out when he is required to perform? This is a chimp who is suffering every day of his life. He desperately needs other chimps to be with and without them his life is gut retching. I won’t even get into chimps in labs because I couldn’t finish this.
THANK GOD BARNUM AND BAILY CIRCUS IS GONE FOREVER!!! F#@*& them!! They were animal abusers. Cirque De Solei is the replacement! No animals!
Animals love their babies. They kiss them. I saw a mother chimp kiss her baby the other day. Here’s a baboon mommy kissing her baby.
We as the human race are acting like idiots if we don’t take this more seriously. Elephants are being poached at a rate that will make them extinct in 20 years. And it’s for their tusks which are nothing more than our own teeth!! Somehow, somewhere, some human decided these tusk/teeth were worth something. They are worth nothing more than the 25 cents you get from the tooth fairy when your tooth falls out! Please, DO NOT buy ivory. You would be killing elephants.
Great apes have a different challenge and of course it is human related. The Great Apes are the gorilla, the orangutan, the chimpanzee, the bonobo and the human being. Yes, we are one of the great apes. Except for us, every great ape is HIGHLY endangered because of US! Their territory is being encroached upon for a mineral called Coltan which is used in all our devices; our cell phones, tablets, cordless phones, computers, etc. PLEASE recycle your electronics. If you don’t know how, figure it out!! In Texas, Staples will do it for you, check it out in your own state. Coltan can be taken out of recycled electronics and used again. HUGE for the great apes!
We are working hard to be sure the captive population of endangered animals is bio-diverse which means if and when these animals go extinct in the wild, at least our grandkids can see them in captivity. Bio-Diverse means we will not be mating sisters and brothers, etc. If things continue the way they are, in 20 to 30 years there will be no such thing as “wild animals”. How horrible is that? Please figure out a way you can help. Recycling your electronics is a tiny start but what else can you do?
-Minimize your use of plastic in any way, plastic ends up in waterways and in the ocean and animals eat it. Little tiny sea turtles will eat anything and so many of them die from eating plastic.
-If you can afford it, buy “sustainable” products like toilet paper and paper towels. There is a sustaianble logo on the products.
-Recycle everything that you can.
– Try hard not to use Styrofoam in any way. Its the absolute worst thing for the environment and wildlife.
The below photo is, of course, Jane Goodall probably in the sixties. She lived alone in a hut in Africa studying chimpanzees. She is the first person on the planet to observe/discover that any animal other than humans use tools; a gigantic discovery and disconcerting to say the least to the very conservative christians. We now know that all the other great apes are also tool discoverers and tool users. That includes Chimpanzees, Gorillas, Bonobos, Orangutans, and of course humans. Yes, we are one of the great apes. Probably not the best one because we are the number one problem for the rest of them in terms of endangered numbers. These guys, chimps and gorillas are SO highly endangered that if things go on the way they are they will be GONE in the wild in 20 to 30 years.
Please recycle your electronics. Cell phones, lap tops, etc. have a mineral in them called Coltrane which they mine in Africa where these apes live. Their habitat is being destroyed and their areas to live diminishing because of this mining. Not the only problem but one of the the big ones.
Jane is in her 80’s and still working tirelessly for the great apes. I saw a speaker at the zoo where I volunteer as an amateur expert on the Western Lowland Gorilla and the Chimpanzee and Jane is his boss. He was UNBELIEVABLE. His commitment to this effort was so complete and his guts were even more impressive. He lives in Africa working against extinction. This guy is doing scary stuff. AND he said sometimes he’s very scared. He said it’s worth it. I get that, if my life ever changed radically, I could see myself going and doing something that scared me to death, might be good. When I shook his hand and made eye contact all I said was “Wow,” and he locked eyes with me.
Look at Jane making contact with that baby Chimp! She is the first person EVER to give animals NAMES while studying them. Before her it was xj2 and x78 and completely not allowable to designate them personally. With Jane it was Flo, Fifi, Fin and Freud and many more adorable names. She shook up the scientific community like you can’t believe which I utterly love. Chimps can be very aggressive and everyone knows that the worst comes out in any mother animal when they feel their offspring is threatened. I would estimate the baby in this photo is about 6 months old which means his mother was very nearby watching this and trusted Jane implicitly. Look at this photo and allow yourself to cry!
“This was the hardest one,” an ape keeper named Tara at the Dallas zoo told me today, “the hardest one ever.”
Anyone who works in any capacity with the apes had sunglasses on today and were carrying much needed tissue.
Last night as I sat at dinner with my husband I kept hearing my phone tones for email and text. I don’t work (I volunteer) so I don’t get as much activity on my phone as most people and the rate at which these sounds were coming in alarmed me a little. “Excuse me please, let me check that,” I said to my husband.
I am an amateur expert on the Western Lowland Gorilla and the Chimpanzee and I volunteer at the Dallas zoo two days a week speaking about behaviors and personalities of the apes. I have come to know each ape intimately and some know and recognize me. I love them deeply.
Andrea, it’s Julie at the zoo. I know this is going to hit you hard and I’m so sorry. I sent you several emails and I think Tracy did, too. We lost Kona today, I read on text. I burst into tears. My husband was frantically asking what happened of course and I told him we lost Kona.
“Oh, the one who got his toe bit off by Juba?” my husband asked anxiously.
“NO!” I said, “those are the gorillas, Kona was the 7 year old Chimp!” I said as I sobbed. I cried myself to sleep.
Driving to the zoo today was horrible. I was so scared to see the keepers but even more scared to see the Chimpanzee troupe. Cindy did a good job faking it at the Chimp Keeper Talk and then I saw Annie. We embraced and I started to cry and she hugged me even harder. Sweet thing, she’s only 28.
I am good friends with Kona’s main keeper whose name is Will. Will is an emergency medical technician and is in Vietnam right now on a doctors without borders type mission with his father who is a surgeon. I was so shaken up that I texted Will and just said OMFG and he responded and was an absolute wreck. Annie is his girlfriend and he asked me to take care of her until he could get back. I told Will she’s a lot stronger than either of us, which is true. Annie is not unemotional, she just controls it well. When I told Annie Will texted me to take care of her she chuckled with tears in her eyes.
Later in the day I saw many other ape keepers and it was emotional. Kona was one of a kind. He was a rebel, a clown, a strategizer, a risk taker and his two and a half year old little brother Mshindi loved him to pieces. In fact, at the zoo when an ape dies, they let the other apes in the troupe see the deceased body so they can process what has happened. Little Mshindi was slapping Kona’s dead body trying to wake him up. Gut wrenching.
No one knows exactly what killed Kona. He had been a little lethargic and not eating well for a week. When they brought him in and put him under anesthesia to try and figure out what was wrong, he just died. Blood work and autopsy in progress but who cares, it won’t bring him back.
This morning when the keepers got to work there was poop spread on every wall, floor and ceiling of the indoor Chimp bedrooms. Last night, the chimps protested. It was the only way they knew how. Today the Chimps were despondent and little Mshindi was trying to play the games on the ropes and climbing structures all by himself that he used to play 0n with Kona. Gut wrenching.
Mshindi is going to miss Kona
So am I
“C’mon little guy,” I said under my breath, “let me save your life…”
I love animals and I know it sounds weird but I also care about bugs, worms and lizards. I simply can’t stand it when there is any kind of critter in my house who I know will die a slow painful death if they stay in my house. They will either die from starvation, lack of water or exhaustion from frantically trying to get out of the house as some insects do. Lizards are a little more low-key than that, but boy, are they fast when you try to capture them. (Little do they know, however, of my in-depth experience from when I was 12 or 13!) All these guys need to be outside to survive and I suppose they get in my house by either flying in when the door is open or riding in on our dogs.
I cannot focus on anything else when one of them is in my house trying desperately to get out knowing it will be dead if I don’t do something about it. I know what you are thinking, How in the world does she even know these things are in her house?! How does she hear them or see them? The answer is my house is very quiet unless the dogs are going nuts about something and also very uncluttered so I probably see and hear things people with noisy, cluttered houses and closets don’t see and hear. I even save flies, I don’t think most people care about flies and I get that.
I have created a sophisticated tool kit for capturing small creatures I find in my house. Here it is:
It is a half of a manila folder and a green drinking cup that has the Masters Golf Tournament logo on it. I have no idea where this cup came from because while my husband and I both enjoy golf, neither of us has ever been to the Masters. Just ask my husband; I will sometimes spend upwards of half an hour trying to save bugs, lizards and worms with my tool kit. (Well, worms don’t take that long….hehe.)
Today as I was getting ready for Pickle Ball, I was in my closet and some movement on the hardwood floor caught my eye. I didn’t have my glasses on and I’m pretty much blind without them so I ran out to get them, put them on, entered the closet just in time to see the most adorable, tiny, baby lizard run for cover. This guy was beige colored with brown dots all over him. He had the cutest face I’ve ever seen all full of the brown dots. He was no more than 3 inches long. I ran for the pantry where I keep my sophisticated tool kit and set to work. I’ll tell you, I know lizards but this one was savvy. I was throwing my hung clothes out of the closet onto the floor, I moved my Elfa organizing shelves out of there and was trying desperately to get this little sweetie pie in my green cup and out to the back yard.
No luck. The lizard was out smarting me. I was begging with him but to no avail. I was heartbroken. Finally, I had to leave for Pickle Ball and arrived half hour late.
I forgot all about it. When I got home 3 hours later sweaty and happy from the sport I adore, I took my dogs out back and sat on a chair while they pooped and peed. I suddenly remembered the adorable little lizard and my heart sunk. Maybe he’ll be slower now because he is hungry and thirsty. God, if he’s still even in there and if I can even find him, no chance, I thought.
I retrieved my tool kit and determinedly headed for the closet. The clothes were still on the floor and the Elfa shelving was still out. I knew the chances of finding this lizard were slim but OMG, there he was! Tucked into a corner and yes, a little slower than he had been earlier in the day. I chased him around a little and said a prayer and begged him quietly to let me save his life. The challenge with the sophisticated tool kit is that once you’ve got the critter trapped in it, for instance you’ve got a butterfly trapped against a wall with the cup, is that when you shimmy the manila folder against the wall to secure the capture that you don’t break a fragile wing or leg or whatever. Ya know?
Anyway, this adorable lizard made what could have been in the wild his fatal mistake but in this situation saved his life. He was tired and hungry and thirsty so for whatever reason he thought his best bet was to climb up the wall in a corner. I am SO grateful to the Master’s organization that their green cups are so cheaply made that I was able to literately bend it to the degree that was like a corner! What’s that called you smart people? A 45 degree angle? A 90 degree angle? I used to know all this crap but I just don’t care anymore. I care about saving lives.
Little guy fell into my cup and I covered it with the manila part of my sophisticated tool and brought it outside. I set the little guy free in my back yard on the dirt under the foliage where he so wants and needs to be. I saw his tiny head move from side to side. I can only imagine what his lizard joy must have been.