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!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Nicole Cook Speaks To School Children About The Plight Of Primates

"I had them raise their hand and put a hand on their heart and swear they would never hurt a monkey," Cook said.

For two weeks in Nigeria, she worked as a volunteer caring for orphaned monkeys at a refuge run by the Centre for Education, Research, Conservation of Primates and Nature.

Her trip to the school, arranged by a village chief, allowed her to explain how people help monkeys at the center's Rhoko Research and Education Center on the river of the same name.

In Nigeria and much of Africa, it is illegal to kill or sell a monkey, or raise one as a pet.

Yet monkeys become orphans as zoos close in war zones or, more commonly, as hunters kill their parents for bushmeat, which is part of the Nigerian diet.

Bushmeat, however, is no longer a sustainable food, as Cook told the students, because logging and plantations chopped Nigeria's rainforest to 10 percent of its original size.

The killing of monkeys, gorillas and other great apes changed from subsistence hunting to a billion-dollar industry. Organized bands now hunt to feed logging camps or export the meat on logging trucks to markets where it fetches high prices as a delicacy in Africa and wherever Africans have immigrated in Asia, Europe and North America.

"The bushmeat trade over the last decade or so has become an emerging threat to wildlife population across Africa," said Lisa Pharoah, program manager for West and Central Africa at the Jane Goodall Institute in Arlington, Va.

Hunters leave behind orphans too tiny to sell for meat. Some of the young monkeys are brought to sanctuaries after being confiscated by authorities or turned in by owners who eventually realize that monkeys are too strong and active to make safe pets.

Hence, Cook asked the students to take the pledge. If the killing of monkeys continues, none will remain, Cook said.

She explained to the school children that in a portion of their rainforest, the center created a preserve where no one has permission to hunt or cut trees.

Cook told the children about Dr. Jane Goodall, a researcher who started her career studying chimpanzees and now devotes her life to protecting them and the places where they live. Goodall teaches that everyone could leave lighter footprints - that is, have a gentler impact on the earth's resources.

"Only take things out of the rainforest that are renewable," Cook said to the students.

Villagers traditionally derive their income from the forest. They enter on Mondays - gathering yams, cocoa beans, palm nuts, plantains, pineapples, papayas - and leave on Thursdays to sell at the market on Fridays.

Cook told the children that logging devalues the forest without enriching them.

"The money doesn't stay in the village," she said.

The center seeks to help the villagers by buying food from them, a recognition that people who live near the forest must have ways of sustaining themselves if they are to sustain the forest and its creatures.

Cook and two women from the United Kingdom who volunteered with her bought local fabric. Sold in fathoms, or 6-foot lengths, the fabric cost 900 Naira, or about $6.13. Her colleagues took the fabric to a tailor who made dresses for them. Cook took her fathoms of fabric home to make curtains.

For three days, she, the other volunteers and guides walked 8 kilometers through the wilderness, marking - and sometimes hacking - a trail with machetes. The trail leads to the top of a volcano called Bagamogon that will be a destination for researchers, other volunteers and, hopefully, tourists, who will enrich the villagers, Cook said.

When Cook arrived at Rhoko, she didn't think she could endure two weeks of sleeping in the huts; eating the local diet, which included dried fish that her guides packed and incorporated into each meal during the trek up Bagamogon, and dealing with the wildlife.

Although watchful for gorillas and snakes, Cook learned to walk with her head down to watch for the most feared creature in the forest - ants.

The first night when she stepped out of a vehicle upon arrival at Rhoko, Cook felt a pinch.

"Ow, Ow," she screamed.

Just run, someone yelled back.

She had stepped on an ant mound in the dark.

"Before you know it, they'll be crawling up your chest. They bite so bad," she said.

During her stay, Cook took malaria drugs daily as a precaution against disease-carrying mosquitoes, was bitten by bedbugs, broke out from poison ivy and fled her hut when a cobra rose up between the floorboards and spit on her companion. A self-described weak swimmer, she nearly drowned in a river after the current carried her over her head. A woman on shore waded in and extended a hand to lead Cook back to shore.

Even out of the water, Cook never felt dry. "Once you sweat, you're just wet all day." A towel that she hung to dry remained wet four days later when she packed to leave.

The humid forest, however, felt like an air-conditioned room compared with the village, where the sun baked everyone. All the drinks were tepid too, including the river water served warm and smoky after being boiled to kill bacteria.

Despite the hardships, Cook cried by the time she had to leave. She bonded with her companions and village leaders while drinking kai kai, a strong alcohol distilled from palm sap. She marveled at the greenery of the forest, the dozens of brightly spangled butterflies and birds, and, of course, the monkeys.

At the center, the monkeys live in fenced enclosures. Many of them are from the genus gunon, including a single Preuss's monkey, the only member of that endangered species in captivity. The mona monkeys resembled old men with their white beards. Cook saw other monkeys that look like their names: the red-capped mangabey and the putty-nose guenon.

She watched them as they groomed one another by picking parasites from their fur.

Monkeys practice good nutrition as well as hygiene.

"If you give a monkey something that's not good for them, they will just throw it," Cook said.

Cook tossed food wrapped in bamboo skins into the monkeys' enclosures. Opening the skins to find food stimulates their minds and simulates foraging to help prepare the monkeys for a return to the forest.

The next day when a monkey saw Cook, it held one of the skins as if to implore her to fill it up again.

"They are so smart," Cook said.

Sylvain Lemoine, a French researcher staying at the center, found 220 forest foods that monkeys eat while cataloging what different species of monkeys accept and reject.

Lemoine was animatedly telling Cook about the plan to return the monkeys to the forest when the cobra interrupted them and spit on his leg as he dashed out the door.

"I don't think his feet touched the floor," Cook said.

She rushed outside behind him.

While the snake intruded on their talk, eagles or other birds of prey interrupted the first attempt to return monkeys to the forest. They were scared of the birds and returned to the center, but researchers will try again, Cook said.


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