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!
In many parts of the country, winter has already settled in for the season—but, at our Sanctuary in south Texas, it’s just now arriving. We had a few practice runs in November with some cold drizzle and near-freezing temps at night, and that gave the monkeys an opportunity to begin to acclimate to cooler weather. Now, with a major storm now bearing down on us, it’s safe to say that winter is officially here.
Shorter daylight hours signal changes in plants and animals alike, and the monkeys here are no exception. Many species of macaques have distinct breeding seasons related to shortened photoperiods and, as a result, most of the Japanese macaques at the Sanctuary are red-faced and red-reared, and they’ll remain that way until after January. Their coats have thickened noticeably in advance of winter, and squabbles frequently erupt among normally cohesive groups as females maneuver for access to preferred partners, and males (even though they’re sterilized) see every other male as a rival.
Like the snow monkeys, rhesus macaques are also an extremely hardy species. Though their coat doesn’t appear to grow thicker this time of year, the cold doesn’t seem to bother them much. Many a frigid, dark morning, staff has made their early rounds in order to check heaters and make sure everyone is okay—only to see the black silhouettes of rhesus macaques high up in the trees, furry backs covered in sleet and their shelters empty. Even the long-tailed macaques adjust and toughen up, though they seem to be a little less tolerant (or maybe smarter), and quickly take advantage of hay and heaters. Some of our other residents are not so tough, though.
Baboons are the largest species we care for at the Sanctuary, and they spend most of their time strutting impressively across their enclosure. In fact, almost everything they do is impressive, whether it’s eating a flower with their long tooth-filled muzzle, nibbling gently at a single petal, or jumping backwards while slapping the dirt, creating a minor dust storm. They‘re generally direct, unafraid, and nonchalant when you try to manipulate them with a treat; they’re too cool for that nonsense. But bring on a little chill, and these seemingly invincible beings become uncharacteristically needy, running to their boxes when we arrive to light the heaters. You can literally see the relief in their faces as they snuggle up to ward off the cold.
Regardless of their species, some of the monkeys who were formerly kept as pets also have a little harder time with the cold. We’re not entirely sure why that is, but we work hard to provide them with what they need to be comfortable. So, we’re excited to see the tremendous response to our recent public request for baby blankets. Not everyone uses them, but Gilbert, India, Chongo, Mackenzie, Buddy, Elvis, Freeman, and quite a few others certainly do.
Stolen from their mothers and sold as pets, I believe they needed something soft to constantly cling to in their early lives - just as they would have clung to their mother for the first six months of life in the wild - and soft blankets would have likely filled at least some part of that need. For those who were given access to them, blankets can still provide a great deal of comfort in addition to warmth. And, blankets can serve as novel enrichment: something unique and unusual to play with, drag up into the trees, or shred as they see fit.
As winter gets fully under way, we’re doing everything we can to make sure our residents are comfortable, healthy, and engaged.
Thanks for doing everything you can to help us help them.
For the Primates,