July 2010 Rescue Blog
by Tim Ajax, Director
Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary
Some people monkey around a little, some people monkey around a lot, and then there's Tim. He's a prince among primates, presiding over hundreds of fellow bipeds in the often-brutal Texas outdoors. There's no ape escape for Tim and his crew, but no matter. They love to help macaques, baboons and vervets live out their lives with as much freedom as possible. And like peeling a banana, Tim's blogs take you to the good stuff inside — with a steady supplement of Texas weather updates, of course!
You never know how long it might take. You never know for certain what the right trigger will be. For many, it’s as simple as a change of environment and the opportunity to forge new alliances. For others, the road can be difficult and long.
So much happens in the critical early years of development that it’s always been amazing to me just how adaptable monkeys who were kept as pets can be. Stolen from their true mother (often within days of birth) and reared as human surrogates, the extent of the damage done can be almost impossible to determine. But give them the company of others of their kind, the freedom to explore and a healthy dose of patience on our part, and they always come around — well, almost always.
She arrived in the heat of summer last year, a rotund, sweet-faced snow monkey who was completely people-oriented. She was doted on by loving humans who wanted something more for her and chose to place her here so she could be a real monkey. Hopes were high. Tamae was curious, confident, energetic and obviously a healthy eater. All she needed was a room outside and the company of other monkeys. I’m always cautious about predictions — other living beings seem to have a habit of not reading the scripts I write for them — but she was so engaging and confident that I thought this could be one of the easier transitions.
Well, she didn’t read the script, either. Within days of her humans’ departure she started moping. Her appetite gradually decreased and she became hyperactive. I spent a considerable amount of time with her trying to help her settle in, and she became very dependent on me. The dependency is not what I encourage, but it can help transition from one family to another. So I spent extra time with her, fed her the foods she was familiar with and, after she started relaxing a bit, introduced Charlie to her. She wanted nothing to do with him, and every time a staff member or I would approach she would threaten him and he would threaten right back.
Patience, though — we had to have patience. After months of familiarity I finally saw Tamae sitting within 6 feet of Charlie and hoped we had made some progress. That was the last time I saw them so close. Next we tried Nuggie, a male rhesus macaque, but that didn’t work. Even little Khy was introduced to her in a protective cage, but she wanted nothing to do with him, either.
This was not going well. At only 8 years of age the thought of Tamae living the rest of her life by herself while needing, and vocally demanding, constant human interaction was disturbing. Something had to change.
This summer we took in a little female rhesus named Poco who, like Tamae, is very human-oriented. The difference was that Poco also made monkey friends very easily and I thought that she might be a good match for Tamae. Based on Tamae’s previous interactions, I felt she needed a change of venue as well as a new friend. We moved Poco to a medium-sized cage across from the baboons and gave her a couple of months to settle in. Meanwhile, Tamae — now a trim, athletic monkey — was still demanding constant attention anytime a human would walk near.
About a month ago we shifted Poco over to an adjacent cage and moved Tamae into Poco’s cage across from the baboons. We gave Tamae a couple of days to adjust to the new area and then let them in together. Tamae immediately chased Poco back into the adjacent cage and I thought, “Here we go again.” I was hoping for more and left feeling discouraged.
We needed the adjacent caging for the long-tails that we recently took in, so the next time Poco went into Tamae’s cage I shut the gate — they were going to have to work it out, and they were going to have to do it alone. I left and instructed everyone to completely ignore both monkeys while feeding and watering. I was hoping tough love would help turn Tamae into a real monkey. Because of Tamae’s dependence on me, and protectiveness of me, I stayed away for several days to make sure I wasn’t part of the adjustment problem.
When I returned for a visit, Tamae immediately took off after Poco, and though she never caught her it was apparent we were back at square one. Since no physical harm was being done I decided to leave them together and hope for the best while we worked with the long-tails.
We moved eight of the 15 long-tails to the caging across from the baboons and split them into two groups. We spent the next several days anxiously watching while they worked out their differences. There were several conflicts and they were having some difficulty adjusting, and it seemed that nothing was going quite right. I was deep in thought as I walked back to the office and had almost passed Tamae and Poco when I looked up expecting to see Poco up on the platform above me and Tamae running to chase her off. Instead I saw a very relaxed Tamae sitting quietly while a very attentive Poco groomed her expertly as only another monkey can. Finally!
The long-tails are now getting along much better and soon they’ll be moved to an introductory enclosure. While Tamae still chases Poco when I’m around, it’s almost play at this point and they’re frequently seen grooming each other. Though she still has a ways to go, Tamae has finally had the breakthrough all of us have hoped for since she arrived.
Until next time...