The Goosebumps

“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:

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Dear William,

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,

Andrea Thompson

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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:

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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.

Bill Falk

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I’m a softy and this made me cry. Here is my response to him:

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Hi Bill!

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!

Andrea

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Do We Really Do This?

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.

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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.


Kona Died

“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.

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Sweet Kona

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Mshindi is going to miss Kona

So am I


Beautiful Stunted Growth

“Let them die.” the animal activist groups said about 17 elephants who were slowly starving to death in Swaziland, Africa because of drought and lack of food. “That is the natural thing to do,” they said.

I am so glad the Dallas zoo and two other zoos here in the South (This isn’t the South! Texan’s would exclaim, this is Texas!!) did not agree and had what it took to cut through red tape (It’s illegal to take animals out of the wild and put them in captivity unless it is an extreme circumstance which this was) and bring these magnificent elephants to new homes where they could get the sustenance they need to survive and thrive.

Our five Swaziland elephants are small because they have been malnourished their entire lives. Jenny, a Dallas zoo elephant resident for years weighs 10,000 pounds. In contrast, the only male elephant we got from Africa weighs a mere 3,600 pounds. His name is Tendaji and when he arrived at our zoo he stayed awake for 48 hours eating and drinking.  Our four females from Swaziland are also seriously underweight.

Now we are in the midst of the complicated process of “introducing” our new elephants to the ones we’ve had for years. In the animal world you don’t just throw a bunch of new animals together. With high intelligence and intricate social systems, it can take months to slowly let each elephant get to know one another and track how the personalities mesh or don’t. It’s a huge job for the elephant keepers.

One night, not long after the new elephants arrived in Dallas, our elephant keepers noticed some recognizable sounds from one of the females. They had no idea. Then, like a kiss from the universe or thanks from the planet, beautiful Mlilo, surprisingly gave birth to a boy calf. He’s underweight at 150 pounds from his mother’s malnutrition but she is producing all the milk he needs because she is so well fed at the zoo. This makes the introductions that much more complex and the keepers are busy baby proofing the barns and the habitat (we haven’t had a baby elephant for something like 40 years) but what an amazing blessing! Here they are:

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Zoos Now-a-days

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?

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The buddies laughing and playing.


They Are Wild!

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Shauna in His Pool
A keeper at a Florida zoo who was the senior “big cat” keeper and was known as the “cat whisperer” was mauled and killed by her favorite tiger a day or two ago.  This happens way too often.  She was in the friggin’ cage with him.  Wrong!
There are zoos that are “protected contact” and then zoos that are not.  Protected contact means that you only interact with a potentially “killer” animal through some kind of protection.  For example, at the Dallas zoo, the keepers are very intimate with the gorillas and chimps but always through heavy mesh fencing.  Because of that, there is no way the keepers could be harmed by the animals.  The Dallas zoo also adheres to protected contact with lions, tigers, mountain lions, etc.  We are a protected contact zoo.
Gorillas are not “killers,” they are very gentle by nature, but because of their size and strength they could crush a keeper with an affectionate hug.  Chimps on the other hand can be very aggressive and as cute as they can be, especially the babies, they are very dangerous. I am a huge believer in protected contact because our keepers at the Dallas zoo don’t get killed and never have and keepers at non-protected contact zoos have.
I get it.  I know what happens.  Keepers in non-protective become somehow immune to the fact that the animals they love and the animals they believe love them are wild animals.  They begin to believe that their bond with the animals is something very special and different.  They think the animals love them.  And they might be right!  But they are WILD!  They turn on a dime.
I think keepers who love their  animals might lose sight of this.  These animals hear or see something out of the corner of their eye and they attack whatever is in front of them.  I’ve seen chimps do this.  Thats what happened in the recent killing of the keeper.  Everything was fine until she turned her head and the tiger heard or saw something that was upsetting and attacked the first thing she saw, and someone she probably otherwise loved.
All I can say is “Siegfried and Roy.”

My Pet Peeve

“How many monkeys do you see in there?” a young woman asked her two year old at the zoo today.

We were at the Chimp habitat and I could see about 7 of them.

“Zero,” I said to myself in a whisper, “there are no monkeys in there.”

 

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Mishindi and his mother, Ramona

 


Let Them Die

Seventeen elephants who would have starved to death in Swaziland, Africa have been rescued and sent to three zoos. Five for Dallas, six for Sedgwick County zoo in Kansas and six for Omaha zoo.  Unless it’s an extreme circumstance, which this was, it’s illegal to take animals out of the wild and put them into captivity.  This has taken the three zoos 2 years to pull off and they’ve had fights and lawsuits with animal activist organizations because they wanted it to stay “natural”. (Translation: let them die…..no kidding.)  All zoo employees and volunteers have been prepped and coached for the likely event of demonstrations or even riots.  So far nothing, which is surprising.  Our elephants arrived Friday night after a long and arduous journey then ate heartily and drank lots of water (horrible drought in Africa) and slept well.  They are in quarantine for at least a month but the five are together.  Our existing elephants were stomping their feet and trumpeting because they could smell or sense new elephants.  The “introductions” of our four elephants with the five new ones will take months with lots of careful observation and consideration from their keepers.  Animal personalities and hierarchies matter a LOT, and you can’t force anything.

At the volunteer meeting on Saturday, our CEO, who’d had five hours of sleep in the previous five days because of some “big grey things” spoke and presented a slide show.  He said he was very nervous about the transport of these gigantic animals and wanted to stay in touch with staff accompanying the elephants on their journey.  He was tripping over his words and getting choked up.  He was so relieved that the elephants had successfully been transported and arrived safely at our zoo.  Our CEO said one male ate all his food, drank all his water and was asleep before some of the females even had the nerve to leave the crates they had been in on the plane.

The photographs he shared on a slide show were unnerving.  We have an elephant named Jenny and she is 10,000 pounds.  That’s five tons, am I right?  Imagine 17 elephants being loaded into (very comfortable and elephant friendly) crates, lifted with a crane and somehow moved into a 747 aircraft.  Imagine being the pilot of that plane taking off with that kind of weight.  Let’s be conservative here in this calculation.  Let’s say each elephant weighed a mere 6,000 pounds….that would be 102,000 pounds!  I can’t, for the life of me figure out how a plane takes off at all, much less with that kind of weight!

I’m thrilled to say the Dallas zoo now has 9 gorgeous African Elephants!

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Our Four Girls Who Will Soon be Nine!


Amazing

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Look at this Polar Bear Sculpture.  It is gigantic and it is completely made out of LEGO’S!!  The entire Lego Animal Sculpture exhibit is coming to the Dallas zoo this month.  So exciting.  If you are in Dallas, check it out.  If not, it is a traveling exhibit so check periodically with your city’s zoo!


Fig Newtons and Dead Squirrels

“Oh, here’s someone you can ask, honey,” a woman at the zoo said to her kid. He looked away shyly.

“She’s a volunteer here, honey, she is here to answer questions”. The boy flushed. I stopped talking about the gorillas and smiled gently at him. He still wouldn’t say a word.

“Do the chimpanzee’s have a toy squirrel that they play with and throw around?” the woman finally asked me.

“No,” I said, “at the Dallas zoo you will never find anything unnatural in the habitats, no toys, blankets or anything like that. The apes play with hay, sticks, rocks and stuff like that.”

“Well then, the one they are flinging around up there must be real,” she looked a little queasy.

“What?” I almost shrieked. “They are throwing around a squirrel? Is it alive?”

“I don’t think it is anymore,” she replied.

“What time is it?” I said as I turned in the direction of the chimpanzees, “there is a keeper talk up there at 11:30 and zoo guest probably won’t want to witness that!”

“It’s 11:30,” she said.  I started to run as fast as I could which isn’t very fast because I have weird hips and my foot hurts today.

I got to the chimps just as one of my favorite great ape keepers Will was starting his presentation in front of the glass viewing windows.  “I’m sorry to interrupt, Will, can I have a quick word with you?” I asked.  He stepped over and I whispered in his ear.  He started laughing which was a relief to me because I didn’t know if there was a concern of health issues spreading from a dead squirrel to a chimp.

“Well,” Will announced to the crowd with a grin, “this could be an interesting keeper talk as I have just been informed the chimps may be playing with a dead squirrel!”

Will then went on to point to the different chimps sharing their names and ages.  We have a baby chimp named Mashindi whom the zoo guests love to see and Will was a little frustrated that he couldn’t spot him.  Suddenly I saw him.  “There’s Mashindi, Will!” I said with a smile.

Will and I then looked at each other horrified.  Mashindi was rushing right toward the glass and the crowd with a dead squirrel dangling from his mouth who was about half the size he is.  There were gasps from the zoo guests.  As he arrived in front of the glass, his 6 year old brother Kona grabbed the squirrel out of his mouth and flung it about 10 feet straight up into the air.  It landed with a splat.

During the keeper talk there are large metal doors that open to a very heavy mesh fencing and the keepers interact with the animals through that mesh.  Will asked another keeper to go get some medical gloves and some fig newtons.  Chimps are highly intelligent, highly food motivated and they love fig newtons and rarely get them.  They also understand the concept of “trading”.  Kona is probably one of the most intelligent chimps in there.

Will put on the gloves and then showed Kona the fig newton which he immediately reached for.  Will pulled it back and said, “Trade for the toy.” Kona clapped his hands.  “No, Kona, trade for the toy.”  Kona opened his mouth so Will could see his teeth.  Kona was trying any behavior that might be rewarded.  “Trade for the toy, Kona.”  And suddenly he understood.  He went over and got the dead squirrel and then he and Will together negotiated how to squish the squirrel through the mesh.  I couldn’t watch that part.  Then the crowd cheered so I opened my eyes just in time to see Kona delight in his treat.