The Little Rock Zoo

.The Little Rock Zoo needs to step up and care for the animals better! Please read the several artciles here with deaths, sickness and a bald chimp!

Monday, October 12, 2009

April Truitt Says, People Are Ignorant When It Comes To Owning Private Primates, Susie The Baboon

l in th

Charles Bertram

Susie, whose breed is social in the wild, is getting used to being around other primates after spending most of her life apart from her species.

JESSAMINE COUNTY Susie's narrow-set eyes look out on a world she hasn't seen since she was sold as a 5-month-old baby. It is filled with her own species.

The now 24-year-old baboon moves from the back of her cage to near the front. She can see her neighbors better from here. She moves like an old woman, slow and creaky, gentling her own ankles. But she clearly wants to see what is out there, beyond the big wide doors that are open to her. Her large cage is situated so close to the door she could reach out and touch the lightly falling rain if she wanted to. But she keeps her hands to herself, touching her new blankets some, almost as if she is arranging them in her new home.

The light from the high windows gives her olive fur some brightness and yet highlight her pallid skin. She is not aggressive, in fact, not very demonstrative at all. She is watchful. Since she got her a week ago, her new keepers says, she's been eating like a longshoreman and drinking like she's parched.

More than a week ago, the 31-pound Susie was taken from the dark dank garage of a home in Independence, in southern Kenton County. Keeping exotic animals like Susie has been illegal in Kentucky since 2005, though Susie would have been grandfathered in by the state law. She was, however, in violation of a Kenton County statue and the owners, in order to avoid prosecution, voluntarily signed her over to the animal shelter there.

She was immediately taken to the Primate Rescue Center in Jessamine County where executive director April Truitt monitors Susie's adjustment to her new environment and does numerous medical tests, all in an effort to determine what is the next best step for the aging baboon.

Truitt says Susie is underweight and was diagnosed last Wednesday as diabetic. She has bedsores on her back side. Her ovaries, and quite likely her uterus, were removed at puberty
because of the species' monthly period, which includes a large and showy vulva display, Truitt said. That should have been a cue for her owners that she was not a toy, Truitt said, but it wasn't.

Truitt said Susie, who is of a breed of animals that is intensely social, has been in isolation for a long time, except for a tank of fish that were kept in the garage with her.

This is particularly tough on baboons who are meant to spend their entire lives in close and continuous contact with family, friends and even their enemies. It is even harder on the females of the species who never intentionally leave their maternal clan.

Susie has no reference, save for that which has been bred into her for eons, to help her with that.

Dan Evans, director of the Kenton County Animal Shelter, says the folks who owned Susie weren't bad people. Susie was bought specifically because the family didn't want children, said Evans. The man even went so far as to say that "kids talk back to you" and that's something he knew Susie would never do, Evans recalled. So they treated her like a child. So much so that she lived in the basement in a cage for her first 15 years, was made to wear clothes sometimes, says Evans, and enjoyed the benefits of heat and air conditioning.

The man who owned her had, he told Evans, grown up near the Cincinnati Zoo and near an animal handler. He had been fascinated by the animals he'd seen come through that man's house. He had really wanted a chimp, he told Evans, but the market for them was just too steep, each one costing something like $25,000 each. Susie had been on sale for $2,500 but the man had talked the sales agent down to a reasonable $1,000.

Over the years, the owners had tried to introduce a dog into the household and Susie, Evans was told, was very traumatized by that. Similarly, Evans says, the baboon is inordinately afraid of broomsticks.

"It's almost never bad people," says Truitt, referring to those who must surrender their wild animals to the rescue center.

"I am not saying they didn't love Susie in their way. They are just ignorant of what she needed and what she could benefit from. They were stubborn, not to think of what was best for her."

Evans has heard from some of the couple's friends that the couple took good care of Susie.

"I understand they think that," he says. "In 24 years, they will have bonded with this monkey. But this is a wild animal. It is not a daughter or a domesticated dog or cat. A garage in southern Kenton County is not its native habitat."

Admittedly, Jessamine County is not Susie's native habitat either. But the rural center with the giant monkey playhouses and the lush private surroundings currently houses 42 monkeys and 11 chimps, most of African and Asian origin. Susie is the center's only baboon. Truitt says she has already begun to see if Susie is a good candidate for staying long-term or if another facility might be a better fit.

Last week, Truitt did a preliminary test to see how Susie would do with others at the center. She rolled over the cage of Mighty, a friendly welcome-wagon kind-of busy-body monkey, to visit with Susie.

"Susie did fine. She did some lip-smacking, which is happy behavior. She made some grooming noises. There was no screaming which would indicate apprehension."

In other words, they chatted, exchanged numbers, promised to get back in touch.

Truitt was pleased. Susie has to continue to show the experts what she can handle. Because of her large-enough size, says Truitt, she would not be rejected by the larger animals and could be placed into the massive enclosures and, theoretically, could live like she is supposed to, in a cohesive group of her own species.

Admittedly, they are a motley crew, made up of those primates successfully rescued from medical research facilities, roadside zoos, hoarders, the pet trade and the occasional garage.

Meanwhile, Susie wakes every day now to see, next cage over, Bob, the small vervet monkey climbing and clowning, and Wendell, a fun-loving capuchin who has a badly mangled left paw and an equally complicated human story to tell about how somebody thought he'd make a great baby substitute, but somehow did not.

Reach Amy Wilson at 859-231-3305 or at (800) 650-6397, Ext. 3305.
Source and photographs

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