12th Day Primates 1 & 2

Cha-am Travel Blog

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Song, Hue and Chakchan - pig-tail macaques

Horrible night's sleep last night; the room was so stuffy but I'd spent about half an hour before bed staring out from my mosquito net at the evil bastards who have been biting big lumps in my legs and arms for the past week. It seems like since the 3 monsoon rains we had that they have been out in force and despite nets and repellent I have always a new itchy lump to add to my collection every morning. Lieke didn't believe it till she watched me turning round and round frantically in my net squeezing and squashing about 30 of the buggers both on the inside and the outside. We were hi-5ing to squash them between our hands. So when I kept waking up hot, I was too afraid to sleep outside of my silk sleep sheet, and despite being parched too afraid to leave my net in search of water.

Wandee, Bandit and Item - baby macaques
Finally, at 2.30am after fitful dozing trying not to touch the net I finally succumbed to dehydration, doused myself in repellent and wandered out to the fridge. The centre is pretty creepy at night. The dogs could go off at any moment thinking you are in intruder, and there is the sound of gravel crunching, probably from them, or from said intruder or axe murderer. As I stood at the water cooler my shadow slid across the wall but I couldn't see the light source. It seemed to be from a torch but when I looked behind me there was nothing there. Eek!

Since it's getting towards the wet season the number of volunteers seems to be tailing off, and we seem to have had a few dissenters recently who have paid up for a number of weeks and then decided to only stay for a short time before traveling round Thailand instead. To be fair, I don't think the centre minds so much since the money can go towards the animals rather than the upkeep of the volunteer (about 45% of the volunteer money actually goes to water and food for humans not animals), but at the same time the same amount of work still needs to be achieved - 270 animals still have to be fed, watered and cleaned no matter how few staff.

The upshot of this is that today I was not only leading P1 team but also P2 with Elise, Francesca and Angelike who had all only done P1 once, and Elise had never done P2. Fortunately for me a bunch of people opted to help out, so Emma helped with feeding out P1 and the water rounds, Gerard helped with P2 because it's his last day and he's only ever done bears, and Laura helped with P2 even though it was her day off and she was heading to the resort with Lieke at 10.30am. Lovely people!

Lyndsay is leaving soon and as we talked last night about how it feels to be going, I realised that I am both counting the days till I finish, but also counting the days that have already past, if you know what I mean. Currently I am halfway, and that is a relief but also sad. Everyone describes this weird mix of feelings and I'm starting to realise just how much I've come to take for granted this very intimate contact with very wild animals, and how hard it will be to give that up. I never wanted to volunteer with wildlife because I'm an animal-lover especially; I just wanted to volunteer and feel like I was doing some good in the world. But never in my lifetime did I ever imagine I would have the opportunity to work so closely with such amazing animals, it really is a bit of a fantasy come true. Every day we are getting to know these wild creatures more and more intimately; to know their moods, their likes and dislikes, their personalities. Some we blow kisses with or flirt with, some we talk to and talk back with, some we play games with; some aggressive and fierce, some playful and fun. We know when to approach with caution, when to stay well back, when to pre-empt a charge and to ignore the gibbon hurtling towards you bareing it's teeth and trying to snatch at you. Sometimes they will do what we want them to do, sometimes they stick the proverbial finger up and make life as difficult as possible. I really have come to love the Primates especially, even (especially?!) the bastards, as they keep things interesting and even their posturing and fierceness is funny. It will be hard leaving and knowing I can't go out any time I like and have these really unique experiences; just feeding and watering and talking to monkeys.

So anyway, I thought today I might describe some of the characters we have on the block. In P1 we start by feeding solitary block; the real assholes who won't live with anyone else. Some are quite sweet; Loi always blows kisses and sets back his ruff, which we are told means 'you are welcome', so we all love him. Nee on the end is blind, so he's very docile and never tries to grab you. Chim Chai is the deformed gibbon from the Animal Planet programme, but she's pretty friendly (well, not aggressive anyway). Kot is a bugger, though he rarely tries to grab me which is good because going to the food prep house we have to pass him 20 times a day. Sometimes he gets a strop on though - I try to keep my distance generally and ignore him to avoid confrontation; when he loses it he is really nasty-looking. Mel (Gibbon - geddit?), Nin and James are okay. Milo has really big, pointy teeth he likes to bar at people. Madge doesn't much like girls so if you walk too close to the centre of the path (i.e. closer to the cages) he will charge the wire and you will shit your pants. After 2 days here you just get used to walking on the outside edge of the paved path, and walking in single-file even if you are talking to a friend.... Bong and Gilbert sit by the fruit house. Gilbert tries to shut volunteer's heads in the chiller door, and Bong is one of my favourites purely because of the phenomenal noise he makes all day singing and calling.

Then we feed outside Quarantine; these guys are pretty easy-going, we just make sure the bowls go down on opposite sides of the cage at the same time so no fights break out. Bowls are evenly spaced so one primate can't steal another's food, and at the same time so they are both occupied immediatley rather than pacing between bowls, cherry-picking and no doubt falling into a vicious argument over their favourites. Just so's you know, monkeys really do LOVE bananas, it's usually the first thing they go for. Go figure. And bears really like honey.
The 3 storey circular cage at the end has both gibbons and macaques, so we feed the gibbons in their high baskets first, and then put the macaque food in the low baskets, otherwise the gibbons steal everything.

WSPA block is fairly easy (Molly, Ringo, PT, Ovaltine and Rose); the only one to be really careful of is Pepsi Max, and his 'wife' Oumphang. I've talked about him before - he has to be isolated from Oumphang or she won't feed because he will steal her food, or beat her for it. We put his bowl in the basket in the small isolation cage; sometimes he'll go in, sometimes he won't. If he doesn't, we close the small cage but leave the food there so he can see it and smell it, and feed out everybody else before returning. Usually by then he will go in, and then we can put Oumphang's food out too. She normally sits in the corner of the cage, and won't move. At first we had to feed her there, and even sometimes hand-feed her since she would allow the food to sit untouched, or let it fall on the floor, too afraid to pick it up. Since she gained confidence though, we have been putting her food in the basket on the near side of the cage so she has to move out of the corner to get it, and thankfully she's been doing this okay finally.

In Gibbon and Macaque block (M&G) we have to isolate Loso from Daan and Pattie, as he is a vicious bastard. He doesn't much like going in the small cage, and it's pretty scary at times as the only way to secure the gate is with a stringy rope. Fortunately the bars have been made impossible to reach through though you still fear he can as he chatters, rattles and screams at you, his little claws scratching at the metal about a foot away from you. Daan and Pattie get larger portions as they got skinny while he was stealing their food.

Lamung, Noodles, Little Mo, Coco, Lola and Betty get fed at the same time, bowls all down at once (with a helper), Seb (I call him Mr Big Bollocks) is on his own, and then George and Susu. George is another asshole who deprives his 'wife' of the best food. Emma says she hasn't seen it, that they are both just aggressive with volunteers, but I think he's pretty vicious and certainly never lets her choose what she wants from her dish. Nieng has a cage all to himself and is a mean little shit. He looks evil as hell when he loses it. Nothing cute or sweet about that monkey. Bomb is super-aggressive but really skinny because of a heart condition. It's kinda funny cos you tend not to jump when he crashes into the wire because he's only half the size of a regular gibbon, which must be sour apples to him. Beth and Bam who share his enclosure are sweet, and Jung and Gao next door (Gao is Thai for 9 because she's only got 9 fingers).

In the forest are 3 tree-top enclosures with 2 gibbons in each. Big Mama and Tung Tong, appiliated gibbons. Big Mama is huge and makes a phenomenal noise when she calls. It's really impossible to talk over her when you are feeding or watering and she's singing. The other gibbons are pretty docile. They seem to be pretty content; probably because their enclosures are so close to natural habitat. I still get nervous filling water or putting food out/collecting food bowls if they are near the baskets though. They have long-arms, are inquisitive and/or mischevious. It doesn't pay not to alert.

Finally the macaque fields are full of mostly nameless monkeys who run, swim and scamper around the fields. We have one field of stump-tails, one of pig-tails and one of long-tails. There's only a few of note; the mums with babies, and one particularly fat macaque with saggy tits. With true originality I call him 'Mr Saggy Tits'. He tends to sit with his legs propped up on the wire, with his big belly sitting on the concrete and his man boobs hanging down to his knees. Amusingly I tried to take photos of him the other day and he seemed to be quite camera-shy.

In Primates 2 there are Joi and Ting Tong. Joi is big (big bowl) and totally schizo. I caught him sitting in the corner moving leaves around the other day, but then periodically freaking out and messing up the leaves till they swooshed around in a flurry, before settling down to move leaves from one place to another and then freaking out again. Havin cleaned out his cage though, there are plenty of red ants so perhaps that's what he was getting frustrated at. Besides, he has a good reason to be schizo; he was loved as a pet for 2 years as a baby but when he grew big teeth and attitude he was nailed into a crate for 7 years in the dark. Food came in the top of the crate and waste out the bottom. Understandably he now longer likes the dark or small spaces so we move him into Ting Tong's cage when nwe clean rather than into the small side enclosure.

Ting Tong was paralysed in his back legs when he arrived and the recommended course of action was to have him put down. The vets operated on him though and miraculously within 3 weeks he was walking again. Unfortunately he is still mentally-scarred though and nothing can stop him pulling out his fur until he is bald.

Next door Sid is also scrawny and bald, but probably due to vicious room-mates leading to malnutrition. Normally we would separate him from the most aggressive male at least during feeding but because one of the field macaques is in their inside enclosure we can't. I've been hand-feeding Sid when the others are distracted by food so he is getting a decent meal when I'm on Primates 2 at least. But Duwan (the slightly less aggressive male) has also been seen grooming Sid and hanging out with him in the wire walkway so maybe there is a change in the feeling towards him.

The others, Song, Hue, Chakchan, Mink, Jo, Chumchay are all pretty okay. They have their moments but mostly they are pretty easy-going.

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photo by: thelailama