I mentioned in my update to last month’s post that I would address “the elephant in the room” in this post, because we’d hopefully have a better idea by now of the end game. But as time as passed, it seems we’re no closer to having any idea what to expect in the days ahead; in fact, the picture is likely muddier if anything. I am struggling mightily without my animals – I would gladly cut off a limb if it allowed me to visit with them again – and I am trying to find the words to express my grief. If I come up with them, I will make a whole post around them on my other blog site. But since my pain and grief is universal, I have decided to use this post as (hopefully) a distraction for everyone – and perhaps even some small sense of normalcy, or at least a connection to pre-pandemic life. Please stay well and stay tuned. I hope to be able to provide you at least eight more posts after this one.
In the winter of 2012-13, I attended some pretty intensive training sessions in order to become a Year-Round Volunteer at the Toronto Zoo. The photo at left is of my brand-new “swag” which I received after completing my mandatory 12 “solo hours” on April 19, 2013. On a personal note: I find that date very interesting, as it turned out that almost exactly one year later (on April 22, 2014 – Earth Day) I visited my doctor to get help with my depression and anxiety for the first (and most successful) time in a great number of years. Anyhow, one of the things we were tasked with as Trainees about half-way through our “school year” was to come up with an interpretive presentation about an animal of our choice and make it relevant to a certain grade level and subject. Because I had been coaching Peewee Hockey until a year or so earlier (ages 11 and 12) I decided to go for a Grade 6 presentation; because they study Biodiversity, it became a bit of a “Go Big or Go Home” moment for me, as this is one of the tougher tours to lead – not that I exactly knew this at the time. In any event, I chose to focus my presentation on the gibbons in our IndoMalaya Pavilion. I kind of fell in love with our pair during this time, even though primates in general are not at the top of my list of favourite animals. What I thought would be fun to do here is to type out my entire presentation for you (and add photos to it, since you won’t be standing at the exhibit) that I gave on that day, January 11, 2013. I have just looked through it and I honestly cannot believe how far I have come since then as an Interpreter. I hope you find this informative and, at least, a little entertaining.) This tour is for a Workshop Group.)
OK, can everybody see? Excellent. So… did you ever wish you could fly? How about without needing wings or feathers? Well, here is an animal that is very much like us genetically who comes as close to flying as you can get without wings! These are “white-handed gibbons” (also know as “lar gibbons”). These cute primates are found in the forests of Myanmar, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Northern Sumatra, and Malaysia, primarily in tropical rainforests. These gibbons move so quickly and effortlessly through the canopy of the forests that it can seem for long moments at a time as if they are flying! They have very long arms, short legs, very light bodies, padded and elongated hands, and curved fingers to better grip the branches as they “fly” from tree to tree. They move predominantly by what is called “brachiating locomotion” (they use their arms) and can leap a distance of 9-10 meters in a single jump! [Ed. note: I have since discovered that this is a rather conservative estimate of their leaping distance.]
They are very rarely found on the ground in the wild because that’s where their only predators are; here in the Zoo they have no worries about predators and you will see them walking far more often. When they do move about on the ground they walk on their back legs exclusively (bipedal) which is very rare among apes.
White-handed gibbons spend most of their adult life in a single mated pair with their young offspring. Each pair has a distinct call which is unique to them. [ask: how does this help their survival?] This helps to ward off other gibbons and marks out their “personal space” and feeding areas, keeping food and shelter abundant and helping to avoid physical altercations with other gibbons over sustenance.
Gibbons are mainly frugivores; sometimes they will eat insects and eggs and, very rarely, young birds, but most of their diet is fresh fruit. [ask: how does this help the survival of their ecosystem?] They are excellent “seed dispersers” because seeds get stuck to their fur [and fall off] as they fly about the forest, or are excreted in their scat. Gibbons especially love fig trees, relying on them for food and shelter as they produce fruit year-round.
You learned about H.I.P.P.O. (Habitat destruction; Invasive species; Pollution; People; Overcollecting) [Ed. note: I realize you did not so I will quickly cover this later] in the classroom earlier. [ask: what two letters do you think are the most threatening to the gibbons?] “H” (Habitat loss) is the single most threatening because deforestation – especially of the rainforest – is a huge problem for all the creatures who live there. “P” (People) is the second-most threatening. Sometimes gibbons are hunted for meat, but mostly the problem is that people think primates make good pets and they really do not.
Remember “Darwin the IKEA Monkey” that was in the news [in December of 2012]? He’s now at a sanctuary northeast of Toronto [Ed. note: long-time followers will know this sanctuary, StoryBook Farm, very well as one we’ve donated to in the past – and also with this year’s calendar] because you’re not allowed to keep a primate as a pet in Toronto. He was bred in Montreal, but the chain had to begin at some point with a “live capture” in the wild, and the laws against this are also woefully ineffective. [ask: speaking of the IKEA monkey, is the gibbon a monkey or an ape?] It’s an ape – specifically an Old World (or lesser) ape from the Eastern Hemisphere – because it has no tail. They are not as closely related to us as orangutans, gorillas, or other hominids, but they are still genetically very similar to humans.
Because the gibbons live predominantly in the canopy of the rainforests [Ed. note: except when they are relaxing in the sun far away from predators, apparently!] and disperse seeds, they help ensure the survival of their ecosystem and the many other species who live there in the event that, for example, something catastrophic were to happen to the bird population. [Ed. note: I learned later that this is referred to as a “Keystone Species”]
The next animal we will visit is what is known as an “apex predator” – meaning top of the food chain – and it would probably be very happy indeed to find gibbons walking on the ground in the wild a lot more often than they do! [Ed. note: this is known as a “Transition” statement to set-up the next thing you wish to show to your charges: in this case, the Sumatran tigers]
Well. How was that? It’s so funny for me to look back on that seven years later and see all the things I missed, glossed over, or clearly didn’t quite understand yet. It is comforting, though, to see that I didn’t actually get anything wrong. I did promise to enlighten you on the “H.I.P.P.O.” acronym (to which we nowadays add a “C” for “Climate change”); the best way I know to do this is to link you directly to our Grade 6 .pdf on the Zoo site and ask you to check out pp. 4-5 there. I also had a post a couple of years ago about our visit to Monkey World in Cornwall, UK, where I featured a pair of golden-cheeked gibbons, if you’d like to check that out as well.
Lenny and his partner Holly are getting up there in years, but still going strong. Lenny was born on December 2, 1975 while Holly’s birthdate is estimated as sometime in 1972 (she was wild-captured). Their whoops are quite something to hear (I have a short video of that coming up) and when they really get going you can hear them a long way from their pavilion. When they both whoop, it becomes clear from their changes of cadence and pitch that they are communicating with each other. They have a lot of enrichment items in their enclosure that are changed up frequently; however, there are two semi-constants: a passel of stuffies for them to carry around (mostly Holly, but occasionally Lenny as well), and a Chinese soft-shelled turtle by the name of Glenda that Lenny is very fond of, and who frequently comes out of the water to wander about the exhibit under his watchful gaze. I have a video of that, too, coming up, right after this one photo of Lenny with a stuffy and yawning, so you can also get a good look at his teeth!
I have one more story about Lenny, but I’m going to leave that as a teaser. I might tell it if I feature these guys in a future calendar; I will definitely tell it to you if you come visit these guys with me any time. Well, once the Zoo opens again, that is. Hang in there: the story is worth the wait.
Speaking of hanging in there: I hope you are able to join me again in May, when I feature my favourite marsupial at the Zoo – and one of my very favourite animals of all of them. With any luck, I’ll have brand-new stories to tell about her by then!
As always – but now more than ever – thank you for joining me and please, please take care of yourselves.
In the meantime, remember: