Sunday, April 12, 2009

Chimp House Coo-ka-mungas

Normally the chimp house is a pretty quiet place. Usually on a bright, sunny winter day the only sounds you will hear are the chirping of a few wild birds, the occasional chimp call, and some snoring. But every once in a while someone will stir up a ruckus and before you know it everyone gets involved and it suddenly becomes the noisiest place on earth!

This is the story of one of those quiet days where all of a sudden all hell broke loose.

It seems to have all started with Toby. Toby has fallen crazy in love with Maya and he has taken to showing her how strong and brave he can be. Spock has a tendency to get jealous when he sees Maya attracting the affections of someone else so he took objection to Toby’s display and started hooting and hollering. Then for some reason he decided to make goo-goo eyes at Chance through the bars. Well! Chance got all upset and started taking it out on poor Rachel and the two of them started chasing each other around, screaming with their lips curled back and slapping each other and thrashing everything in their path. Meanwhile up on the second floor Jethro, Yoko, Regis and Binky got into the act and started rattling the bars and hollering and bashing things around. Not wanting to be left out Petra, Pepper and Sue Ellen started screeching at the top of their lungs too.

The noise was so ear-piercing that I had to stick my fingers in my ears and even then I was afraid that my hearing would be damaged by the shear number of decibels being generated by everybody. Everybody that is…with the exception of Tom.

Tom just sat contentedly on an elevated platform, facing the kitchen, quietly chowing down on iceberg lettuce, green onions and red delicious apples. It was as if he was totally oblivious to all the craziness that was going on. As he happily munched on his lettuce the screaming continued and the bashing and thrashing reached new crescendos. Up on the second floor five chimps were now facing the kitchen holding onto the caging, swinging from side to side – each to a different rhythm, while someone I couldn’t see banged out a stream of percussion from somewhere out back. The whole scene was surreal and I wondered how long it would go on.

While Chance and Rachel continued to streak back & forth through the tunnels screaming and Spock was screeching and Maya was pounding on the ceiling with all her might and everyone else was making as much noise as they possibly could, my buddy Tom just continued to eat happily like nothing was happening.

And just as I thought I couldn’t take it anymore, just as I thought my eardrums were going to burst I noticed that Tom was chewing and swallowing his last red delicious apple. And after swallowing that last bite, slowly the look on Tommy’s face changed – it was almost as if he suddenly became aware of all the noise going on. With a look of total disgust Tommy started to holler. Well he hollered louder than everyone else and you could see how angry and annoyed he was. He yelled with purpose and he definitely made sure everyone heard him!

When Tommy stopped yelling the entire chimp house went silent. I looked around from enclosure to enclosure and all I could see were bewildered looks on everyone’s face. You could hear a pin drop! One by one, each chimp went back to quietly doing whatever it was they were doing before the craziness started. Tommy came down and took a few more apples from a trolley and went back to happily munching away on his favourites. Eventually the birds started chirping again and a little while later my ears were soothed by gentle snoring coming from here and there around the chimp house.

You know, seeing something like that really makes me wonder. If Tom hadn’t been so violently torn away from his family and his natural habitat…if Tom had been left to live wild and free as he should have been, would Tom have grown to be an alpha male in his group? What did he holler out that made everyone instantly calm down like that? Was it a coincidence that he yelled out and everyone stopped? Was it something he “said” that made everyone interrupt their own screeching to stop and listen? Was it a show of respect to Tommy as an elder in the group?

I will never know….but it sure gives me something to ponder about.

by:Kathleen Asselin - Fauna Volunteer

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