“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