On quiet mornings in Amsterdam I sometimes go for a run or walk around the perimeter of Artis, the zoo. I’ve come to long for the morning serenade of an animal that sings in long, soaring, other-worldly tones that feel half-bird, half human. Indeed, I’ve wondered if they’re apes on some of my runs – but the only loud primates I’ve heard of (aside from monkeys of the classic ooh-ooh ahh-ahh style, and humans) are howler monkeys, and these calls are far more ethereal than any howl I can imagine. Until this last trip, I’d never found time to go inside the zoo and find out directly. I’ve never been sure, and always wondered.
Last year and this, some of our sessions for the “coordination days” (in which heads of mission and medical coordinators debate and discuss issues of the day with our HQ management and support) have been held in beautifully renovated meeting rooms at the zoo, which is across the street from our hotel and down the block from our office. One afternoon during lunch, they offered a guided tour with the theme of “leadership and communication.” (Cute theme, for mission managers, eh?)
It was thus that I learned of the golden-cheeked gibbon, from southeast Asia – born golden, turning black after a few years, with females returning golden at sexual maturity. When a gibbon pair develops a beautiful harmony, so the docent told us, it signifies to others in the troop that they’ve bonded. I found the story nearly as lovely as the morning serenades themselves.
So herewith, in honor of the gibbons which sing for their mates, the lions whose children remind me of human teenagers I’ve known (the older two sleeping are parents; the younger two looking bored are the lion equivalent of bored teenage daughters, I gather), and of the baby monkey daughter with her high-ranking mother from the matriarchal-led society, I offer you a few photos from Artis, Amsterdam’s surprisingly central, larger-than-expected, and quite lovely zoo. (I indeed saw older monkeys scamper out of the way of this baby – they treated her like a princess!) Though I still have problems with the whole zoo concept, it was certainly a learning experience for me. Enjoy!