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Newsletter - Animal Writes © sm
31 May 2000 Issue

Remember, It's the Individual That Counts
By Linda Howard, ljhoward@erols.com

20629-F. Standing alone it is doubtful that those six characters evoke much empathy from anyone. Perhaps it would mean more if you realized what the characters 20629-F represent...

That's the identification number on the Primate Freedom Tag of the rhesus macaque (born on June 30th 1980) at the California Regional Primate Research Center who I sponsor. I named her "Faith" because to me, and though I've never met her, I consider her an individual being and not a number. The name "Faith" was chosen because I believe it is essential that we, as advocates and activists, keep the faith that our efforts will someday result in liberation for Faith (aka # 20629-F) and thousands of other individuals in laboratories.

If you have ever met a monkey in a "research" facility, or one who has been retired from life as a "tool for research," you may have noticed a number tattooed on him/her. It is much easier to desensitize and be detached from the individual if one refers to the individual by an arbitrary number rather than a personal name; thus in laboratories, it is much easier to inflict pain on them when one is detached and desensitized from the fact that a living, feeling being is the subject at one's hands.

As animal protection proponents, we are careful not to use numbers and labels which remove references to the sentiency of the individuals. However, inadvertently, we do it all the time in a different way. Many of our campaigns are focused on groups comprised of numbers of animals. Though the individual animals are not being referred to as specific numbers (as is the case in laboratory environments,) when we read "12,000 mink"; "421 monkeys"; "500,000 rats", a similar detachment from the fact that these numbers represent individuals often occurs.

I just had the honor of spending a week volunteering at the Texas Snow Monkey Sanctuary. Keeping in line with appreciation of individuals, rather than writing a scientific-type essay about the social structure of snow macaques, or the assimilation process for captive baboons, I want to provide an introduction to some of the wonderful individuals I met at the sanctuary.

First a little background: The Texas Snow Monkey Sanctuary is located on 186 acres of desert scrub land near Dilley Texas (approximately 80 miles south of San Antonio and an equal distance north of the Mexico border.) The sanctuary has two large enclosures surrounded by state-of-the-art, high-voltage electric fences.

The smaller five acre enclosure is home to over 30 snow macaques, twelve vervets and 19 cats. [Yes, cats! As far as humans are concerned, the cats are "feral" and unapproachable but as amazing as it may seem, the cats are the companion "pets" to the monkeys. The monkeys play chase with the cats and cuddle up with them at night. I've seen this monkey-cat rapport for years but I always find it almost unbelievable.] The larger 65 acre enclosure contains 316+ (depending on expected births which may have occurred this week) snow macaques.

Most all of the macaques are descendants of a troop relocated by necessity from Japan to Texas in 1972. A few of the snow macaques are former "pets" who became uncontrollable or ones who were retired or rescued from "research." Half of the vervets are former "pets" who were relinquished or abandoned and the other half were previously used in laboratory experiments.

The Texas Snow Monkey Sanctuary is a magical place. The monkeys have proven to have survival skills for coping with all the South Texas fauna and flora, including predators and dangers which would not be instinctive or innate for their species. The monkeys have adapted beautifully to the former unfamiliar environment, even developing new alarm calls for various dangers. It is the closest thing I've ever witnessed to allowing captive monkeys to live freely.

After every visit to TSMS, I've said that I could just pitch a tent in one of the enclosures and live there happily (the monkeys never cease to amaze me); though I doubt I'd adapt as quickly as the snow macaques and vervets have. A rattlesnake would probably have me for lunch before I caught on to the alarm call the monkeys created and fully understand to indicate the presence of rattlesnakes. In fact, it was the fifth day I was in Dilley when I "discovered" that there are scorpions indigenous to the area! [The "discovery" was not an academic one, but rather when Lou Griffin picked up a scorpion half an inch from my shoe and nonchalantly said, "Look, a little scorpion." After my initial panic attack, I was paranoidly aware of the presence of scorpions and kept a watchful eye for scorpions for the duration of the visit.]

Only a few monkeys at TSMS are caged in traditional (but spacious and enriched) enclosures. These are the newcomers who are learning to become monkeys so they can be introduced into the free-ranging colonies. The sanctuary has never had a monkey who could not be fully rehabilitated with enough time and patience, regardless of how much "humanization"; abuse, or neglect the monkey experienced in a previous situation. The official motto of the sanctuary is "Humans don't help... Humans don't hurt..." The monkeys pay almost no attention to humans who are in their free-ranging enclosures. Why should they? They have plenty of monkey socializing and monkey politics to attend to and (YAWN), from their point of view and in the greater scheme of things, humans are pretty boring.

That is until feeding time!

I've often heard humans comment that monkeys are "grubby" [well, it may be true but I prefer to say "focused on sustenance"] because they do indeed enjoy their food. The second day of my visit to TSMS, a young vervet in the smaller mixed enclosure jumped from a tree into the bucket I was feeding treats from -- right into the bucket! Everyone who knows me well knows my longtime affinity for vervets but I couldn't let him stay in the bucket. Unfortunately, that looked like an excellent idea to a couple of adolescent macaques and before I could figure out what to do with the precocious little vervet, the little macaques were trying to secure a place in the bucket too! I had no choice but to "dump" them out, salvaging all the food I could. Well, they all started screaming bloody-murder because they didn't get their way and a bunch of adult macaques came to the rescue. "Yipes!," I thought as they approached! But then, the Mamma macaques just reprimanded the youngsters (as all good mothers do.)

One of the adult females stayed by my side the rest of the time and (sometimes standing semi bi-pedally, holding on to my pant leg,) she "protected" me from any trouble-seeking youngsters who were harassing me (that's a favorite game to the fearless and rebellious little ones) and ones who were trying to "steal" food. I never had a chance to point her out to Lou (Lou Griffin, the dedicated and hardworking Executive Director of TSMS who knows each and every monkey by name upon sight) to find out her name, but I can tell you that she is one dynamo monkey who I'll never forget! I sneaked a caramel to her that evening and gave her a little wink. In typical macaque style, she just kept a stoic look on her face and gracefully ate the caramel. We're pals forever now! She protected me every day I worked in the smaller enclosure and I tried to give her a token "Thank you" treat every day.

My favorite part of this visit to Texas Snow Monkey Sanctuary was getting to meet the ten newly arrived baboons. The baboons were retired from 11 years of vascular "research" at Boston University Medical College. They were wild caught in Africa as very young baboons and before arriving at TSMS in mid-April, none had seen or heard other baboons since their capture. I spent hours "socializing" them so they'll be prepared for assimilation as a group in the 5 acre enclosure being built for them. I talked to them (part baboon talk and part English); assured them they wouldn't be harmed, fed them lots of good food several times a day. Sometimes I would be so happy that The Big Boys (as we began to affectionately call them) are no longer in danger and are beginning to trust and show the appreciation they feel, that I'd cry. It was a happy cry of course... I hope all the animals in labs now can be so lucky someday and be afforded the opportunity for a peaceful life out of harm's way.

The Big Boys learned quickly that I was not trying to trick them or harm them. After a few days, most of them began grooming me or letting me groom them (especially the latter, which is most common behavior for male baboons -- being on the receiving end of grooming.) They drank from my water glass; licked broken ice cubes from my hand and readily accepted all the yummy (albeit healthy) treats I brought and hand fed to them. Every morning, I cooked a special and nutritious breakfast for them. [Upon hearing this news, my fiancée commented in an amused way, "Gee, you never cook for me like that." to which I responded, "You were never in a lab! Those guys deserve to be given special attention."]

I'll try not to write a novel about each of The Big Boys but I would be remiss if I did not describe each of them and their unique personalities.

Lancelot, Rocky, Joshua and Shaq... These four are magnificent looking! I wouldn't hesitate to say that they are the Chippendales of the baboon kingdom. Lance has the most beautiful eyes and features, I was immediately infatuated with him (and he's very gentle.) Rocky has a powerhouse stature and always a stoic and wise look. Shaq, had he remained in the wild, could have led any baboon troop with confidence and dignity. Joshua is still a little shy and reticent about fully trusting humans but he is slowly coming around as time passes.

O.J., O'Reilly and Jimmy... These three simply love attention and the only thing they love more than being doted on is food. Any food. All food. Jimmy especially never seemed to tire of eating and smacked his lips and blinked his eyelids quickly if he thought you had any morsel of food he could be given. And Jimmy would "Thank me" for the smallest tidbit I gave him by lip smacking and rapidly rubbing my hands in his. Sweet Jimmy is a slight little fellow with unattractive, uneven features and a splotchy complexion but his personality and gregarious nature wins him a special corner in the hearts of everyone who meets him!

Mr. Mellow... He's the largest of The Big Boys, weighing 104 pounds! Though he eats well and is rather overweight, he's not greedy about food. He eats delicately and would pick and chose what he wanted from the foods I offered to him. Instead of hastily stuffing any and all food in his cheek pouches, Mr. Mellow would make a little pile in front of himself and separate the food items by the order he wanted to eat them. Mr. Mellow always ate the crunchy peanut butter on toast sandwiches I gave him exactly like most humans do, holding it with two hands and sometimes even picking off the crust and discarding it! [Some of The Big Boys took the sandwich apart and ate the peanut butter first and then the bread -- they all had a different method.]

Moe... He has figured out that someone should be boss and he's decided that he'll take on that responsibility! He is constantly testing his effectiveness and engaging in power struggles with everyone, including humans and dogs! Moe-Moe (his nickname) comes across as being belligerent but it is all more for show than legitimate because he forgot to be on guard too often to be taken seriously. I tried not to let him see me laugh at his phony pseudo-macho behavior so as not to offend him! He would have taken it very personally and likely held a grudge.

Curly... Curly is in a class and category of his own. Curly is blind. He is also precious by any standards, baboon or otherwise. He responds wonderfully to hearing his name and begins holding out his hands for whatever you are trying to give him. He gently molds his hands around the food from one's hand and slowly examines it by feeling and smelling it before gingerly taking a small bite to make sure it's edible. We're hoping Curly's blindness is reversible and he will soon be checked out by a team of veterinary opthalmologists. Keep your fingers crossed! Blind or sighted, Curly will be given all the TLC he needs to be a happy and well-adjusted baboon.

Last but definitely not least is Nicki. OK, first, Nicki is not one of The Big Boys... Instead, she's the only Big Girl (though she's quite petite.) Nicki, who was just introduced to The Big Boys last weekend, came from a roadside zoo. She had met other monkeys but never baboons. The look on her face when she arrived at The Big Boys' enclosure was priceless! When I pointed out Lance (who was sitting on his highest shelf) to Nicki her eyes completely bugged out and she sat staring in dismay for a long while before shaking her head and doing a double-take. Nicki was very impressed with her new friends! Unfortunately, for Nicki (who was very "humanized" and used to being "only baboon," which is similar to a spoiled only child), the newness wore off quickly. After a couple of days, she was beside herself in anger over any attention The Big Boys were getting. She screamed and pouted and threw numerous temper tantrums, vying to get all the attention for Queen Nicki (my nickname for her.) I am certain that she will learn to appreciate being a baboon. It will just take time and it will happen at Nicki's pace without the adjustment being forced on her.

If I ever win the lottery, I think I'll start a Foundation that just takes people to our great sanctuaries. I can't believe that if people see all the wonderful individuals, they could ever harm them. Sure, I'm biased because many of these individuals I am referring to are personal friends of mine, but I believe it would HAVE TO make people think twice before inflicting harm on them.

Let us never forget that each being, large and small -- no matter the species -- is an individual... a unique, feeling being who is here on this planet living what is quite possibly the only life that individual will ever have ... as is true for humans as well.

For a peaceful kingdom and coexistence for all individuals.

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