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!
“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
I don’t usually write fiction but I dabble in it from time to time. Here’s something I wrote a while back.
I’m in fifth grade but I really should only be in fourth. Mom started me early and then I skipped a semester in second grade because I was way ahead of everybody else in math and reading. It was hard because all of the sudden I was in a class with other kids I didn’t know and all my friends weren’t there.
I do love to read. Mom says I’m amazing because I learned at two. She says that as soon as I could see the words on a page I could understand them, as if I was “remembering” how to read instead of learning how. Now they say I read at a tenth grade level but I don’t think that’s true because all I like to read about is Great Apes. Chimps mostly but also Gorillas and Orangutans. I don’t think Mom likes it. She always tries to get me to read her books; books for grown-ups, grown-up’s stories, science books and doctor books. She went to work this morning before I woke up and she left me a book called, “The Old Man And The Sea.” Her note said to read it and we’d talk about it together when she got home tonight. I tried to read it because I want to talk with her but it’s boring and I don’t really understand it. She’s not home yet anyway and it’s almost my bedtime. Sometimes I wish she would read about Great Apes. I think she would love it if she tried it. I asked her if she could read one Chimpanzee book instead of her science books and then we could talk together about it but she says she doesn’t have time.
My Mom’s a surgeon and says she works hard so we can have nice things. We live in a house that is really too big for a Mom, a kid and a baby-sitter. There are so many dark, quiet rooms in our house that no one ever sleeps in. No one even goes in to some of them except the maid to clean. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if I had twelve brothers and sisters sleeping and playing in all these bedrooms. I think our house would be better like that.
Mom says I’d be a great doctor because I’m so smart and she’s saving her money for my medical school. She bought me a video about the inside of bodies. We watched it and it was really gross. We talked about it for a little while but I don’t think it was a very good talk for my Mom. She seemed kind-of nervous and I don’t think I said anything she liked. I really wanted a video called “The Wild Kingdom.” I wish she bought that one because I think we would have had a better talk then. That’s OK because I can read my books instead of watching videos.
I don’t know my Dad. I asked her about him for the first time and she told me not to worry about him because he is not good enough for us anyway. I can’t help it; I think about him all the time. I hope he isn’t alone or lonely. I think he might be good enough for me. I wonder what he looks like and what he reads about. I wonder if he ever thinks about me. If I had a little girl who I did not live with, I would call her on the phone, at least. I would call my Dad but I think Mom would get mad if I asked her for the number. When I grow up, I am going to visit him.
Mother chimpanzees take good care of baby chimpanzees. They hold them and carry them everywhere they go. Mommy and baby chimps hug, kiss and snuggle and the Mom picks the bugs off the baby. When the baby gets a little older, she picks the bugs off the Mommy. It’s really cute and it’s for good grooming but also a way they show love. Mommy chimps spend the day teaching the baby things and they sleep very close together and keep each other warm. The Daddy chimp is always somewhere near-by and protects the Mommy and baby.
Sometimes, after school, when the baby-sitter is sleeping, I pretend I’m a baby chimp.
“There are a lot of alpha personalities in the room!” he said.
A normal gorilla troop in the wild consists of a silverback male, several females (called a Harem, sorry gals) and all of their offspring. The silverback calls the shots. He dictates when to feed, when to nest, when to move on, etc. He also breaks up bickering between his females and patrols his territory for his family’s safety. It’s a stressful job and silverbacks are notorious for heart disease. But he is, without a doubt, the boss.
I know our DNA is 98.5 percent the same as gorillas. But we are human and I have noticed in racquet sports if women and men are playing together, certain men revert to gorilla behavior.
I am an amateur expert on the Western Lowland Gorilla and the Chimpanzee and I work as a Gorilla and Chimp Ambassador at the Dallas zoo speaking to zoo guests about their behaviors and personalities. We are desperately trying to save these animals from extinction. I know each individual chimp and gorilla intimately and I love every one of them with my heart and soul.
Eight months ago I switched from years of tennis to a game called pickle ball. It originally was for slightly older to very old people but young people are swooping in because it is so much fun (addicting actually) and such great exercise. It is very fast, can be played very aggressively and it’s a mix of women and men of all ages.
The behavior that concerns me in pickle ball is certain men thinking they are in charge like a Silverback! They force unsolicited advice onto women, try to dominate how the rotation works, try to monopolize courts for themselves and other men, and sometimes even try cruel tactics to get the weaker women off the courts by slamming them with balls on an overhead smash, often 0n very old women. Let me be clear, most of the men do not fall into this category, many I would describe as officers and gentlemen, but something like 15% act like they can call the shots.
Breaking News: I am an assertive person.
Assertiveness is my nature and the school I attended of very hard knocks ( In addition to getting my degree in biz mgt at a U, so as to not sell myself short) has reinforced it. I try very hard to be self-aware enough to not let it slip over into obnoxiousness. But I am definitely not going to be a door-mat to anyone. I am also a very good pickle ball player. I have told many, many men in the last eight months that I do not want or need their coaching. I have had male partners tell me where to stand, when to come to the net, how to serve, etc. all of which I completely ignore. I withhold eye contact with those guys and freeze ‘em out. I pretend I’m playing alone. They can go to hell. The game will be over soon and I’ll have a different partner who is not so insecure or whatever the problem with this one is.
When summer arrives our pickle ball venues become inundated with children at summer day camps and the availability of gym time is at a premium. Translation: there are not as many places and times to play so the ones where we can get very, very crowded. This is when we have to figure out systems for rotations for use of pickle ball courts.
Recently three men and I were having a discussion about how that rotation should work. Seems everyone has a different opinion. I play at so many different venues (and most people don’t) so I’ve learned several different ways to do the rotation and I participated in the conversation wholeheartedly. The younger men are used to strong women in these kinds of situations, of course, but apparently the older ones are not.
After that dialogue we came to an agreement on some rotation systems to experiment with. Half an hour later I was sitting on the bleachers next to a 78 year old man who had been part of the rotation discussion.
“There are a lot of alpha personalities in the room,” he said.
“Yes there are,” I agreed, “maybe because this is a competitive sport.”
He leaned into me. “There are a lot of FEMALE alpha personalities in here,” he said.
“Yes,” I said, “and I know I’m one of them if that is what you are trying to say .”
“Well,” he said, “some men don’t like to argue with women.”
I’m positive my jaw dropped. I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard. To me this implied there are “people” and there are “women”. I was flabbergasted.
I turned my head slowly and looked him in the eyes.
“That is too damn bad,” I said quietly.
He has treated me like a queen every time I’ve see him since that day.
Let’s talk about zoos. In the old days many zoos were a nightmare for the animals. It causes me so much pain when I read or think about it that I can barely stand it.
All accredited zoos in the US are now conservation zoos overseen by AZA. (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) Zoos no longer prioritize human entertainment over animal comfort but instead understanding, care and conservation of the species. We do not use operant conditioning (a fancy word for training) to entertain humans. We use it to train animals like chimps, gorillas, elephants and others to do body part presentations through mesh fencing for the sole purpose of being able to administer medical care without constantly anesthetizing the animals. When a keeper asks a chimp to open his mouth, show the bottom of his foot or put his ear up to the mesh, it is entertaining to the humans. But, that is not why they are taught to do it. Obviously, most zoos are for profit and humans pay for tickets and want to see animals so we make it as comfortable as possible for the animals to be in areas where the humans can see them, but the highly intelligent animals all live in habitats where they can distance themselves from humans if they choose to.
The adjunct priority in accredited zoos is the proliferation and prolongation of the endangered species in the wild (of which there are so, so many). All breeding within the captive population of endangered animals is overseen and controlled by a very stringent organization called Species Survival Plan. They track DNA of every single captive individual within the endangered population and give permission, which they call “recommendations” for who can breed with whom. All zoos world-wide are in cahoots on this. It all has to do with genetics, bio-diversity and personalities of who will do well in captive habitats. Most zoo animals do great in captive environments because they were born in one. It is now illegal to take animals from the wild and put them in captivity and most who were have died off now. Keeping the captive population bio-diverse (ie, you don’t want cousins mating with cousins, etc.) is critical so that if the species goes extinct in the wild, our grandchildren can still see these animals and in some cases, zoos may have a chance to breed enough to get them back into the wild. (Unlikely so please recycle and do what you can for conservation!)
Because of the strict AZA rules, animals in zoos today have it made. They have beautiful habitats, no predators, they are fed exactly what they need, they get treats, they have keepers who adore them, the get “enrichment activities” which is fun for them and makes use of their innate abilities and tendencies. Our chimps, for example have a beautiful, lush habitat with tons of space, no predators, all the food they need, indoor bedrooms with toys and fun things to do for nighttime and any medical care they might need. They love, play, yell, fight, make up and groom each other just like they would in the wild.
Social animals are insured they will not be alone as it is now illegal in an accredited zoo to have only one of a social animal. So if a zoo is down to one elephant, one gorilla, one chimp, etc. it either has to bring more in or send the one to another zoo so it can be with it’s own kind for companionship. Solitary animals (animals who are normally solitary in the wild, like every big cat except for lions) are kept solitary which is what they want and need.
Bottom line: Zoos now are really about the best interest of the animals. When decisions are being made the first question always is, what is best for the animals?