Tim Ajax

Sanctuary 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!

The Big Chill of 2011: Tim’s Diary

Sanctuary Director Reports From the Front Lines of a Deep Freeze

Published: 02/04/11

Wednesday evening, Feb. 2: We made it through the first night but tonight and tomorrow night will be a big test for everyone as the temps will drop even lower and the breeze will push the wind-chill temps into single digits. Thanks to Traci Hanson, Esteban Ramirez, Oscar Garcia, Juan Ramirez and Gabriel Ramirez we’ve been able to provide some extra heat for the vervets (Chango and Bridget don’t like to hang out in the same sleeping quarters as Charles and Bouf), replenish hay in all the critical areas including the baboons, install an extra heating mat for Bo and still manage to get everyone fed and cleaned. To help fuel the monkeys with the extra calories they’ll burn trying to stay warm we’ve gone to additional afternoon feedings of peanuts, sunflower seeds and monkey biscuits.

We had multiple pipe freezes but no bursts. Just in case something happens in the middle of the night we shut the valve on one of the storage tanks so that even if a pipe does burst and we lose all the water in one tank, we’ll still have 3,000 gallons in reserve.

Almost all of the water tubs were frozen an inch deep so we had to use shovels or digging bars to break up the ice to make sure everyone had access to water. Tomorrow promises thicker ice, so we’ll get a good workout.

On top of all of that we are enduring rolling blackouts as Texas’ power infrastructure struggles with the heavy load. The first time it happened really sent a scare through us because we didn’t know they were going to shut us down. Most of the monkeys’ heat is powered by electricity, so any lengthy outage would spell real trouble for the sensitive ones. We already had planned to move to propane heat as it gets us off the grid and is one-fourth the cost of electrically supplied heat, but we’re not there yet. Fortunately the blackouts are scheduled to last no longer than 45 minutes at a time, which we can cope with.

Thursday evening, Feb. 3: Everyone made it through the night, though there are some cold tootsies out there and several locations without water. We didn’t get hit as bad as first thought, so the wind chill was only around 13 this morning.

The rolling blackouts have stopped for now and we’re looking at a 20 percent to 30 percent chance of snow. The guys are all wearing their hot hands and toe warmers; it looks like the high will be just above freezing.

Friday morning, Feb. 4: Well, everyone made it through another cold night. The temps didn’t get as low as expected — we hit about 25 with a wind chill of about 17. Tonight the temps are predicted to get down into the teens, with wind chill pushing single digits.

What did happen last night was snow! I was too bushed to stay up and see it fall, but the morning arrived with a thin blanket of white stuff everywhere. Not much accumulation, but snow of any amount is a rare event this far south. The snow monkeys seemed mostly unperturbed (but definitely cold) while the other species huddled in their sleeping boxes.

The staff spent a good portion of the morning breaking up ice and we’re still without water in some areas of the property, but with highs forecast for the mid-40s today we hope to thaw out completely before tonight’s deep re-freeze.

Everyone worked their tails off yesterday and we managed to build a heat box for one of the baboon houses. It’s propane-fired and feeds straight into their box, but they are separated by a grate Gabriel welded for it. I went back late in the evening to make sure nothing was getting too hot and that the heater was still working properly and found Darwin, a large ex-pet boon, planted chest first into the grate. He made a few appreciative grunts and went back to his bliss. Too dark in the box for pictures but it was a heart-warming moment and a good way to end a long day. Now that the prototype is done we’ll move through the other two boxes in short order.

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