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!
As I rounded the corner to the small pond inside our 56-acre snow monkey habitat, the problem was easy to see. Staff had reported very low water pressure in the enclosure, and there was the culprit: a silver undulating stream of water spouting eight feet into the air.
After 15 years of constant use (and monkey abuse), a pipe had finally broken off a foot under water, necessitating the shutting down of the supply to the entire enclosure in order to make repairs. Being busy with monkey business of my own at the time, I made a mental note of the materials needed and planned a date to return late in the afternoon, after close of our "normal" work day, to make the repairs.
Late afternoons and early evenings are a special time in the enclosure. Birds are singing; there's frequently a light breeze blowing across the open areas; and the monkeys are busy grooming and relaxing in the grass and trees surrounding the ponds, creating a very calming atmosphere. Because these monkeys were reared naturally in their own troops, they developed healthy, normal behaviors and are not a threat to humans, so I felt perfectly at ease in the enclosure.
At the pond, I donned my shorts, put on old shoes, stuffed tools and repair parts in my pockets, and waded into the cold water. While I was working, I would occasionally look up to glimpse a monkey disappearing into the tall grass, or catch sight of one up in the highest limb of a tree, giving the branch a good monkey shake. After about thirty minutes of sawing, fitting, and sweating, the repair was complete, and it was then that I noticed how quiet it had become. I straightened up, looked around, and was immediately transported back in time…
It was the mid-1990s, and I was working for Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation, Inc. We handled all types of situations, from educating the public about urban wildlife to responding to animal emergencies. This particular day, we received a call about a large porcupine who was in a tree in a heavily populated area. We advised the caller to leave the porcupine alone, explaining that they normally sleep their days away in trees, and that she would likely leave on her own after dark. Unfortunately, some of the caller's neighbors were threatening to shoot the porcupine. So, I left the office immediately and arrived at the house, thick quilts and heavy gloves in hand, just after 5:00 in the afternoon.
I climbed the large oak tree and inched out onto a thick limb, pushing a doubled-up quilt in front of me. Of course, she had her tail facing straight at me, and - this was one big porcupine! I don't really know how long it took me to get her wrapped up and to gently pry those incredibly strong fingers loose from her iron grip on the rough bark, but, finally, we were on the ground, and she was safe in a transport crate.
I had been concentrating so hard on keeping her and myself safe that I must have blocked out everything else around me, because when I turned around, I was completely startled to see that there were now people all over the yard, watching us. Some had even pulled up lawn chairs and were drinking beer, enjoying the show!
Now, all these years later, I was witness to an eerily similar example of primate curiosity; inquisitive snow monkeys had formed a loose semi-circle around the area, expressions relaxed and open, eyes watching closely to see what strange thing I might do next.
As I returned to the truck, it was apparent to the monkeys that the human show was over, and they paired off for grooming sessions or melted back into the brush. I climbed into the cab just as a young male performed a short series of casual sidelong skip-steps before playfully strutting past me on his way down the dirt road – a monkey token for my efforts.