Thursday, 23 February 2017

 WAMS Exhibition 2016 -
Swansea Civic Centre

For generations, Cefn-yr-Erw was a working hillside farm. By 1998 it was re-establishing itself as an Environmental Education Centre for schools when the once popular Penscynor Wildlife Park finally closed its doors. With the resident chimps facing an uncertain future, Jan and Graham Garen fought successfully to provide a home at Cefn-yr-Erw. It soon became apparent that the plight at Penscynor was no isolated incident, as requests to rescue and home desperate animals from around the world became a part of their day. The one time farm grew into Wales Ape and Monkey Sanctuary which continues to provide a permanent home for animals in need.

Pictured below are just some of the species to have settled at the Sanctuary. Some have been removed from abusive or neglectful situations, or confiscated from illegal trade. Others come from well intentioned owners who have misjudged the needs of their “exotic” pet. Closed, bankrupt and ill-equipped zoos and parks create a significant demand for places, while animals retired from circuses and laboratories have also needed homes. A few have simply walked headlong into bad luck and circumstance. Many of the animals arrive burdened by their own experiences. Life hasn’t always been kind. Some have significant physical problems, while others struggle emotionally. Options are limited. For some, time has all but run out. The Sanctuary endeavours to provide them with safety and stability. They receive an appropriate diet, toys and facilities for exercise. For a few, it will be the first time they have regular access to the outdoors. Each animal has immediate and ongoing veterinary care as required, as well as fully heated rooms to see them through the South Wales winters (and summers).

Identified by their long, spindly limbs, spider monkeys grow to more than half a metre tall with a prehensile tail that stretches a further 80cm. Jon Jon came to the Sanctuary in 2004 when the house in which he lived was raided.  He was living in the conservatory  and kept in a bird cage. Jonny was reportedly nine years old. His confinement had clearly affected his physical development, and affects him still now he is entering old age.  Yes,
he moans, but it doesn’t detract from his charm. He currently lives with Alf, a mangabey.

Amongst the brutality and confusion of war, animals are easily forgotten or dismissed. In 2006, dedicated charity workers risked the falling bombs to evacuate a small zoo of its terrified animals. The Sanctuary was approached to home a female vervet (Enu) and her two baby daughters (Dede and Demi). Having been raised in parrot cages, their transition was eased by the relative freedom of their new climbing facilities at WAMS. Now older, stronger and all the same size, their ordeal is long behind them. 
  Jason, a hamadryas baboon, was also rescued from the war. Now integrated with fellow hapless baboons, the group is functional and a credit to the adaptability of the species.
Tom and Lola contribute greatly to the success of Jason’s group, an amazing achievement given their years of neglect and suffering, exposed to extreme temperatures, living off rubbish and scraps tossed into their inappropriate cages.

When providing a home we try to create an environment that is appropriate to both the species and the individual. This can be conflicting, depending on the experiences of the animal concerned. Physical and emotional problems are considered, as are issues of historically bad diets and limited exercise. Some are simply old and no longer have the spring of their youth. Whatever the circumstances, every effort is made to adapt the accommodation accordingly, within the inevitable restrictions of cost. Adjusting to their new surroundings can be difficult for the animals and trust comes with patience and routine. It can take time for them to appreciate the permanency of their home, and that meals are a part of the service.                                
The family of rhesus macaques demonstrates how needs can differ. While staff take on the responsibility of primary carers, it is not a role the parent macaques will relinquish.
As any parent, they are fiercely protective over their children’s welfare, and  provide a barrier between  them and outside influences. The current environment allows mum (Daisy) and dad (George) to feel comfortable with their parental duties, keeping the youngsters safe and teaching them what it is to  be a macaque. The youngsters, Ben and Charlie, have the scope to explore the rough and tumble side of their natures, developing behaviour through play, while never being too far from the nurturing love of mum.

Nakima was born in the wild at some time around 1975.  Smuggled out of tropical Africa, she was  confiscated by Authorities in Europe and placed into the care of a Belgian lady who had dedicated her life to homeless animals. Along with the chimps already in her charge, Nakima was given the run of the house and
garden. Incredibly, this appears to have been a successful period of care and Nakima remained in the home until she was twenty nine years old, when the laws regarding keeping chimpanzees changed. While all of the chimps were transferred to a secure facility, Nakima became alone  when her companions passed away. Following two years without chimpanzee company  or access to an outdoor enclosure, WAMS were approached and a permanent home was arranged. Her long term carer continues to visit her at the Sanctuary. Now in her forties, Nakima remains a strong character who is never afraid to tantrum her way out of a situation. Despite being the only female in her group, this much smaller chimp can cut an intimidating figure.
Loving the comfort of her blankets and clothes, Nakima can be seen on match-days wearing her kindly donated Swansea City shirt. Despite living most of her life abroad, she is now very much a Jack.
The need to protect is very strong. It is estimated that ten adult chimps die for every baby taken from the wild. The mother is usually the first.

Bili was captured from the wild as a baby in around 1981 and spent the next fifteen years as a circus chimp. From there he was moved to a European zoo where, in stark contrast, he lived alone in a small enclosure for a further fifteen years. It was this isolation that  prompted a move to WAMS, and the 4,000 mile trip in the Sanctuary ambulance was filmed as part of the BBC’s “Rhys to the rescue”.  Bili is a gentle character and it is difficult to imagine his response to circus training, which can be brutal. At long last he is learning what it is to be a chimpanzee, though remains selective of the traits he takes on board. Whenever possible, he avoids confrontation and the mass hysteria which occurs when Twmi or Fergus initiate a display. He does, however,  enjoy the gentler side of chimpanzee society, such as long lazy grooming sessions. He is an inquisitive chap who, upon arriving at the Sanctuary, twice removed the radiator from its brackets. Needless to say, he couldn’t put it back. Bili was on television again in 2014, this time on the national news, when Swansea University kindly provided their CT scan and expertise to assist with a diagnosis on Bili’s swollen jaw, which was eventually down to an abscess and treatable with antibiotics.  His quiet, calm ways brings much needed balance to his group.

During the 1970s and 80s it seemed that every car in Swansea wore the Penscynor sticker, which was just about as colourful as nostalgia itself.
  In the days of West Glamorgan, Fergus was born at the park on 28th February 1986, a local lad who was hand-reared when rejected by his mother. He has never known his natural environment, or what it means to be part of a wild community, yet his fluency in chimpanzee communication, and blatant manipulation of its social structure, shows just how much chimpanzees learn from one another. In fairness, having always been one of the youngest members of the group, his lessons have been learned the hard way, in a world where politics really is rough and tumble. While not quite Machiavellian, Fergus has been known to select his allies shrewdly and has never shirked a change of  mind or allegiance. As Twmi’s younger brother, and the longest serving members of the group, he is now a well established Deputy. As a chimp who has always been caught between the drive of his natural instincts and the tenderness of his upbringing, he also has a sweet, loving side that is truly unrivalled.

Ronnie was born in a zoo on 23rd July 1987 and lived there alongside his brother, Laki. When the zoo was refurbished, and a new group of chimpanzees acquired, the brothers were deemed surplus to requirements. Laki was moved to a zoo in Tenerife, but no-one wanted Ronnie who was left living alone in the old enclosure. In 2007, WAMS was contacted about providing a home for Ronnie and another European road-trip was set in motion, accompanied by BBC’s “Animal 24/7”.                               
 Gentle by nature, Ronnie is an incredibly loving chimpanzee whose regular initiation of grooming sessions is an asset to group dynamics. The pictures below show him employing a form of sign language, which he uses to interact with visitors. In this instance, he is asking the observer to remove their glasses, something regularly followed with a request to remove clothing. It is unclear whether this is a genuine interest or a learned action reinforced by positive human responses, but the chimps certainly possess the ability to communicate their wants and needs.

Twmi was born at Penscynor on the 18th August 1984, and was hand-reared having been rejected by his mother. He was one of the original chimpanzees to arrive at the Sanctuary following the closure of the wildlife park in 1998. Then under the leadership of his father, the late Jeremy, Twmi was already exhibiting the traits that would eventually make him the alpha male he is today. He shares his enclosure with Fergus, Nakima, Ronnie and Bili.
   Leadership or showmanship? It is sometimes difficult to tell. His displays of authority are certainly loud, particularly when echoed by Fergus, and leaves no doubt as to who is in charge. As well as extravagant pant-hoots, Twmi will rattle his water bottles against the enclosure as he races along its length, before ejecting fistfuls of bark at the unsuspecting onlookers. This display, regular throughout the day, initiates the usual hysteria amongst the chimps and fills the air with sounds of Africa. In the ensuing melodrama, the chimps seek assurance through alliance and place their hands in each other’s mouths - a show of trust - before settling back for some good food or mutual grooming. It is just the way chimp society works. Despite being immensely powerful, Twmi is an easygoing leader and a lovely natured chimp who thrives on an audience.

When spending just a short time in the company of chimpanzees, you begin to recognise the same personalities, ambitions, drives and disappointments of human society. These two are the bad boys.
  Okay, that’s a little unfair given their behaviour is no doubt reinforced by the reactions of their visitors. People enjoy the interaction of chimpanzees and these two have learned how to capture the visitors’ attention. Pant-hoots, raspberry blowing, clapping hands and curling lips are all there for the visitors to enjoy -  and that is when it hits you: missiles of the digested kind.  This is also the moment you begin to question the roles of the participants in this particular exchange, for a negative reaction would no doubt dampen the chimps’ enthusiasm. But the response - for whatever reason - is largely one of shrieks of delight, with some returning to repeat the experience. So the chimps keep throwing. Tubman was born in the wild at some time around 1967. Approaching fifty, he really should know better.  Jason was born in captivity on May 2nd 1983. From contrasting beginnings, the chimpanzees have united after losing long term companions. They have found a mutual interest.

Baboon Island is a small parcel of land carved into the Sanctuary’s landscape. Surrounded by water rich with native wildlife, the island’s importance cannot be overstated, providing the baboons with a sense of territory, as well as a safe environment to develop and express their natural behaviours. Baboon society is reinforced by social practices such as grooming, and they frequently gather to strengthen group bonds and hierarchy, as well as seeing to matters of health and looks. Being great foragers, the baboons are constantly digging for wrigglers and crawlies, often getting distracted by just about anything else in the process.  The island provides them with places to climb, privacy amongst the grasses, and waterside hunting of rapid moving insects. Mostly they just like to play.
  The core of the group arrived at the Sanctuary in 2003. Following bankruptcy, their safari park had closed in 1997, leaving the animals to the ghostly shell. As assets of the bankrupt park, they could not be re-homed for free, and survived through the goodwill of the local community. With no-one willing to buy the animals, they were due to be euthanised until the USPCA intervened, purchased the animals, and found them appropriate homes.

The group of olive baboons arrived at the Sanctuary in 2006. Having received repeated warnings about substandard care and conditions, the zoo in which they lived was closed down. Subsequently, an eight week deadline was established, following which the family of baboons would have to be successfully re-homed or euthanised.
  In reality, it can be a lot more difficult to find homes for animals that are neither endangered or fashionable. Younger, aesthetically pleasing animals with cute and cuddly qualities are far more popular, exhibitable, and therefore in demand. 
 Whether we are imposing on our animals the same impossible standards required of the exhibited members of our own species, is not a question for here, but the Sanctuary was happy to provide a home for these wonderful animals - and they look magnificent.
  The olive baboons share many traits with the hamadryas species, and fill their day foraging for spiders and insects. Grooming reinforces the social hierarchy headed by Khan, who is never less than immaculate.

Oliver and Bernie are both lar gibbons (Hylobates lar) while Yoko is a pileated gibbon (Hylobates pileatus). Gibbons are lesser apes. With short bodies and long arms, most journeys are travelled by swinging through the trees.
  Oliver was born on 12th October 1986 and lived in Penscynor until it closed. A real character, his songs can be heard well beyond the Sanctuary’s boundary.
  Although gibbons come from Asia, Bernie is actually an Aussie. Born in Melbourne Zoo on October 6th 1986, there are no records of how or why he travelled to the UK.
  Bernie and Yoko came to the Sanctuary when the noise and lights of the fairground next to their zoo proved too stressful. Both were very nervous and disturbed when they arrived. The routine inspection by our vet revealed that Bernie had a history of self-inflicted wounds. Layers of scar tissue were signs of how he would bite his hands and feet as a reaction to stress. He would also direct that aggression upon others. Born in 1974, Yoko was also a very unsettled individual at first, and wasn’t shy in demonstrating her mood. Having now been at the Sanctuary for many years, neither show such behaviour. They are enjoying a peaceful life based on routine. It seems retirement suits them both.

The geographic isolation of wild lemurs makes them particularly vulnerable to extinction, and there are realistic doubts about the chances of survival for many of their species. Sadly, it is unlikely that any of the Sanctuary’s lemurs ever experienced their natural habitat. The brown lemurs (Eulemur macaco), pictured top, are an all male group that were confiscated from a zoo. Despite repeated warnings, the zoo continued to keep the lemurs in transport crates for more than six months. They were named after their carers from the Rescue Centre: Sam, Dries, Frederik and Sil.                                        
  The distinctive black and white ruffed lemurs (Varecia variegata), pictured bottom, are another all male group. Harry, James and Henry arrived  via the pet trade, being three of eighty pets in one home. Obi and Sunny came from a zoo situated next to a fairground. The noise and lights proved too distressing for the animals who needed to be re-homed.
  The ruffed lemur in the centre is Princess Leia. Having arrived with Obi and Sunny, she was separated from the group when the male attention became overwhelming. She has since teamed up with Lisa, a black lemur (Eulemur macaco) who arrived with a feisty reputation, having attacked two females at her previous zoo. She has shown nothing but love for Princess.                                            

Like humans, non-human primates need nurturing, care and guidance. Titch was born in a zoo on 2nd July 2005. His formative years proved difficult as he struggled to integrate with other mandrills, and soon acquired a reputation for being disruptive. Still very young, Titch was transferred to several different zoos, many with no outdoor facilities, but was returned each time with the same negative responses. Unable to settle anywhere, the decision was taken to euthanise this troublesome character.   
  Titch arrived at the sanctuary in June 2013. He was underweight and scarred from self inflicted wounds. Having grown up without the care of his parents, or the guidance of a consistent group, he had learned to deal with stressful situations by pulling out his hair and biting his hands and legs; a likely symptom of his fear and confusion.
  As a measure of improvement, Titch’s appetite has certainly rallied over the last three years. Omnivorous by species, he relishes eggs, mangoes, cherries and sweet potatoes. He loves company and is facially expressive when spoken to by visitors. Reducing his exposure to stress has greatly improved his negative responses, but this improvement continues to be monitored.

Don’t be fooled by Popeye’s excitable discovery of yoghurt, capuchin monkeys are amongst the most intelligent of the non-human primates. While the English language possesses little chit-chat value for them, the capuchins have developed a functional system of vocalisations, postures and facial gestures that allow them to communicate as effortlessly as a tea break chinwag. Anyone approaching their enclosure will immediately encounter a head tilting, teeth bearing, brow raising greeting that will leave you feeling slightly inadequate, as you awkwardly reach for your capuchin phrasebook. This successful form of communication helps reinforce their social structure and maintain harmony within the groups. In the wild, it also allows them to pass on tool using skills and information relating to food source locations.
  Popeye, Bert, Sloebert, Stanni and Luki arrived via a rescue centre in Belgium. Given their quantity, it is likely they came from the pet trade or laboratories. Connie arrived when her park went bankrupt and has since moved in with Bert and Popeye. They are truly fascinating to watch  - as they too watch us.

Without so much as a continent in common, these two monkeys happily share an enclosure. Mangabeys are found in Africa while
spider monkeys hail from Central and South America, but the Atlantic is a trifle matter when it comes to friendship. Their interaction and companionship is a credit to them both.

Sinbad is the crab eating macaque who sneaked on board the Skagen Maersk cargo ship while it was docked in Malaysia, and remained there hiding as the ship took to sea. It was one week into the five week journey before a startled crew member eventually spotted the bizarre stowaway, as the intrepid Sinbad attempted to penetrate the mess in search of food. Informed of the unlisted passenger, the captain ordered his capture. A monkey loose on a ship was a risk to himself, possibly falling overboard, as well as posing a quarantine threat should he leave the ship undetected on one of its many ports of call. It was up to the chief engineer to construct an ingenious trap, which Sinbad entered a few days later, lured by his need for food.
  The macaque was well cared for by a crew who were becoming increasingly fond of their new shipmate. But the impracticalities were obvious, and a chain of communication eventually ended up at the Wales Ape and Monkey Sanctuary. Our fixed and mobile quarantine facilities made us an obvious choice for Sinbad’s permanent home, and the little macaque was remarkably stress-free when collected. We also had a lone macaque, Julie, whose origins were uncannily similar to those of Sinbad, having been found wandering the streets of the Belgian port of Antwerp. Despite being
different species, it was hoped that the two would become companions. That became a reality in early 2012. The two have settled well together, and are now happily sharing their lives on land.

At the Sanctuary, the mini wetland surrounding Baboon Island opens out onto grass and hillside fields, before dropping steeply into damp, deciduous woods, with rivers that meander the valley to the South Wales coast, and the captivating beauty of Gower.
  Just beyond the Sanctuary, the Brecon Beacons rolls away into
Mid Wales,  hosting regions of ancient woodland, coniferous forests, heaths,  scrub, lakes, waterfalls...and so much more. It is greedy with habitats, and so vitally important to the past, present and future of Wales.
  Both  enchantingly bleak and bustling with natural beauty, this is a magical place, into which the Sanctuary is intrinsically woven by its wildlife.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

The Final Working Hobby

An observational study of the Sanctuary's chimpanzees:

watching you, watching me.

  So work experience is almost over, and I'm sure for some it has been more work than experience. Not so for me. It seems fitting that the chimpanzee study has come at the end of the week, since they gave me such a raucous welcome on my first day. Today they were a lot gentler, and threw only water.
  Through the week, we have researched a list of wild chimpanzee behaviours, in the hope that we might observe some with the Sanctuary's population. Starting at 10.30, our first hour was spent in the company of Twmi, Fergus, Ronnie and Nakima. Between 12.00 and 13.00, we joined Tubman and Jason.
  On its own, the study has no scientific value, and is little more than a very interesting exercise. However, if we were to make the times we observe the two groups consistent, and extend the observations over a longer period, it could be a basis for a more accurate picture of the chimpanzees' behaviour at the Sanctuary.
  Some of the most interesting points to come out of the day, were:

  • Tubman and Jason's enclosure is a much calmer environment than that of the larger group. At first I thought they might be related, so comfortable did the seem in each other's company. But then I discovered that Twmi and Fergus were actually brothers, and considered how chaotic it can be be living with siblings. It might be that a larger group of chimpanzees is more likely to create a hierarchy in which others want to challenge.
  • Knuckle walking was by far the most common way to travel. Brachiation was observed a few times, and Jason offered a lazy, half-hearted version where he brachiated while rope walking.
  • The only two who participated in mutual grooming was Nakima and Ronnie, and for a while they nuzzled closely, cleaning the other with their mouths and hands. The others participated in the occasional self-groom, but this tended to be a half distracted scratch as they sat enjoying in the sunshine.
Nakima and Ronnie
  • It would be wrong to say the chimpanzees looked tired, but they were so relaxed - in what was a day of warm sunshine - that I wouldn't have been surprised had any fallen asleep. They moved around the enclosure with the carefree swagger of tourists, occasionally rolling onto their backs when overcome by their sense of stresslessness.
  • Not even the presence of food could disrupt the chilled out atmosphere. With plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables available, the chimps picked out their favourites in a selective, carefree manner. Fergus stocked up with carrots, placing the sticks between his fingers and toes, while Twmi popped a whole apple in his mouth, ensuring its safekeeping for later. Across the Sanctuary, Tubman collected seven tangerines, five of which he squeezed into his mouth. Not to be undone, Jason promptly copied his companion, fruit for fruit, then sat alongside as the two peeled their food with their teeth, incredibly content in each other's company.
  • Despite having an abundance of water available, Ronnie leaned forward and sipped from a small puddle, just like he would in the wild. 
  • Both Nakima and Jason demonstrated how they use their mouths to carry things, in this instance water bottles.
Jason and Nakima
  • Depending on the definition of tools, Tubman used the wood-shavings to clean or scratch his feet, while Jason used a small stick to scratch his face. 
  • While it was a calm day, there were a couple of periods of energetic chaos exerted from the larger group, most of which was initiated by Twmi, rattling his bottle along the fence. On one occasion, a startled Nakima placed her non-biting mouth on Twmi's shoulder, in an act to minimise conflict. Such behaviours would be a particularly interesting area for further study, especially as none of the chimps (except for one yawn) demonstrated any of the facial expressions typically communicated by wild chimpanzees.
Twmi (with Fergus looking on)
  • There was a lot of intraparty hooting going on between the chimps, but sometimes it was directed externally. Tubman was particularly distracted by the behaviour of the nearby hamadryas baboons, and didn't seem at all approving of some of their antics. The larger group also appeared to vocally communicate outside the enclosure, but this time at the Sanctuary visitors. There is no doubt that all the chimpanzees  enjoy the stimulation provided by the people who come to see them. It was interesting to see how Ronnie behaved differently with adults, to whom he mimed his usual hand over the head and down the arm, than to the children, with whom he played along a clapping game. He had even initiated the encounter with a little hoot. 
  • When the warmth of the day had reduced their activity to sitting around, it was interesting to see that the large group of chimpanzees lined up along the enclosure closest to the visitors, seemingly enjoying the interaction, even when it was in quiet company.
  As my time at the Sanctuary ends, I would like to thank everyone for the warmth of their welcome, and the opportunity I've had this week. I will be back again over the Easter holidays, this time as a visitor to these wonderful animals. Below you will find the results of the observational study, but do not take my word for it. Go along and pay them a visit yourselves. They're so worth the experience.

The Study Sheets