Welcome, Buck!

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Welcome, Buck!

From Primarily Primates
April 2009

Buck was born on the 15th of September 1994, to be kept as one of three chimpanzee pets in a Missouri house.

As the couple that owned Buck aged, it became apparent that Buck would outlive them — and it became terribly expensive to keep three mature chimpanzees in a house.

One of the owners contacted Primarily Primates, Inc. (PPI) in early 2009 to find out if the refuge could accept Buck. After the owner agreed to send some money with Buck — to help pay for initial vet checks, a vasectomy, and basic care — travel arrangements were made. On the 20th of April 2009, Buck arrived in San Antonio. PPI president Priscilla Feral and director Stephen Tello were on hand with the sanctuary’s veterinarian, Dr. Val Kirk, to ensure Buck safely returned to consciousness, and thank goodness all went well.

At first, Buck wouldn’t eat. Buck was not much interested in fruits and vegetables. When Danny, a caregiver, offered lettuce, other greens and broccoli, Buck handed them back.

We learned that the Missouri owner had provided hot dogs, bean and beef burritos, milk, cheese, spaghetti and meat balls and Chicken McNuggets. The owner also provided peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and bananas so Stephen tried those. It would take more time for Buck to learn about mangoes, watermelon, oranges, and avocados. Stephen bought strawberries, thinking sweet fruit could help the adjustment.

At first, Buck was afraid of grass, and avoided it and stayed inside or walked along little strips of cement. Buck’s outside enclosure is grassy. Learning to move along elevated platforms in the new living area was essential, so Buck could meet Holly and Mandy, and learn from them how to enjoy melons and other fresh foods. It worked.

On Tuesday the 21st, Stephen saw Buck sitting inside (all the chimpanzees have roomy indoor bedrooms), making raspberry noises, and making a “don’t look at me” face. By now, Buck was already willing to eat bananas and tomatoes. The introductions were scheduled for Thursday.

Buck’s outside area is 60 feet long, 40 feet wide and 20 feet high with a pitched ceiling. A tunnel separates this living area from one occupied by Amy, Hope and little Grace, Deeter, Jewel and Stella.

Stella, who came from the now-defunct Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates (LEMSIP) of New York, is the elder of the group. Amy and Hope also came from LEMSIP. Both are now about 13 years old, and they like ten-year-olds Deeter and Jewel.

That is the group that might be able to be combined with Buck, Holly and Mandy. They would socialize by going through the tunnel to either living area.

On the afternoon of Thursday the 23rd of April, as planned, Buck met Holly and Mandy. The introduction has gone well. Here’s how Stephen describes it:

Anti-climatic. Holly was out first and then Buck was let out. Buck bristled up right at the beginning then his hair went down and Holly and Buck just stayed their distance… they passed by each other once but no direct contact. Buck showed fear grimacing, and was coming to us a lot for reassurances.

I let Mandy out about ten or fifteen minutes later. Again, no vocalizations. They are all aware that they are together, but no direct contact. Mandy is giving Buck some space. She follows him and he walks away, then he walks towards her and she walks away.

Overall, the quietest chimpanzee introduction ever, the most boring. They really just are nice chimpanzees and they are giving each other space and room, not being confrontational, not giving off aggressive vocalizations; it is starting off really nice.

I told everyone that there are a lot of people here: Nicki, Dr. Val, Danny, Tracey, James and I. Some of us need to move away. I am back in the office. Tracey and Dr. Val have stuff to do, and this gives the chimpanzees less to focus on, so that they have to focus on each other. I have to stay nearby in case of an emergency; but really, there isn’t much to say.

The next morning, Stephen says, Buck, Holly and Mandy were inside, sitting together in one of the bedrooms. Holly is Mandy’s daughter. Holly and Buck would gingerly touch their feet together, and look away, pretending not to notice. Stephen is pleased. It appears as though they’ve always been together. Priscilla thinks Buck has a face like Curious George.


Buck at PPI 24 April 2009

Stephen says: Chimpanzees have this hollow-sounding laugh, very breathy. So as I ran down the sides of the inside living area to get in front of him to take pictures, Buck chased after me on the inside laughing all the way. A lot of muscle and sweat went into getting these pictures of Buck. What a great, playful guy he is.

On Saturday 25 April, Stephen will move Mallory over to be introduced to Holly, Mandy and Buck. This idea has arisen because Mallory has been picked on by Thomas. Mallory (born in 1983) was released from LEMSIP in 1997. Holly (born 1985) and Mandy (born on New Year’s Day 1971) came from the Scotch Plains Zoo in New Jersey as the result of a USDA zoo confiscation and closure case. They too arrived at Primarily Primates in 1997.

Buck’s owner is showing video of the introductions to the other two pet chimpanzees in Missouri. We wonder if, one day in the future, those two will join us in Texas.

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