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!
A fantastic highlight of Calabar is the two small primate-related NGOs based there. Pandrillus, aka the Drill Ranch, was the first to start up – founded in the early 80s by an American woman named Liza with whom I had the pleasure of watching the drill monkeys (above) and chimpanzees (below) pace their compounds and – in the case of the chimps – frolic in the water. (Shortly after I wandered into the compound, which is tucked away on a back street in a residential part of town, Liza decided the heat was getting to the chimps, and out came the hose; and yes, I did get to hold it and spray this girl above for a while — for all the world it felt just like holding the hose on a hot summer day for a frontyard full of kids in the midwest — they’d take turns running into and out of the water and screeching happily. I ask you: where else would one get to spray a chimp with water on a hot summer…well, February…day?)
Anyhoo: long story short: Cross River State, of which Calabar is the capital, is home to some of Nigeria’s little remaining forest and wild habitat in which monkeys and other wildlife can pursue their lives as they always have. Sadly, many of them get shot for the bush-meat trade; Pandrillus and Cercopan, the other NGO, take in the monkeys orphaned by the bush-meat trade, and sometimes reclaim monkeys who’ve been shipped around the country or the world as pets. Pandrillus specializes in Drills, a pretty large monkey and close relative of the better-known Mandrill, which live only in a narrow band of Nigeria and Cameroon, and on a nearby island in Equatorial Guinea. Cercopan focuses on a few species of smaller monkeys, several of which I’ve captured in action below. Both have offices and small enclosures for newly-received primates in town, and a larger facility north in the forests, where they run larger groups and, I think, try to prepare some to return to the wild — though having been orphaned at a young age, and/or chained to a perch in a hotel lobby here or a barbershop there, many of these primates wouldn’t really thrive in the wilds any more, and so stay indefinitely — and breed. Both organizations have had success at captive breeding, which is great since the Drills and at least one of the species at Cercopan are quite endangered and live in habitat that is under constant threat. (The most endangerd at Cercopan, I believe, is limited to a narrow band of habitat between the Cross and Niger rivers in Nigeria. I’m here to tell you there’s not a ton of undisturbed habitat left in this particular zone!)
Not sure if this is a mom and her kid, or just two friends; one thing I saw very frequently during the hour or so I spent just staring at these fabulously un-stressed-out looking creatures was the frequetly with which one of them will collapse in front of another for a grooming session. The other will then quite obligingly start picking through fur and – one assumes – removing grubs and burrs and other debris acquired while roaming the…cage.