I. Dinner with Kari
“So I say, ‘Okay, sir. Explain to me exactly how you’re going to get AIDS from my monkeys?’ and he says, ‘I’ll tell you exactly how. Those monkeys will be up in the trees, and they urinate. That pee goes into the ground water, and I’m downhill from you, so that pee is now in the water my sheep drink. That’s how.'”
Kari Bagnall and I sat at her kitchen table amid empty plates of mac and cheese, green bean casserole and soy chik’n patties, the mac and cheese and green bean casserole are gifts from a kind woman whose former pet monkeys now live at Jungle Friends, Kari’s monkey sanctuary. “I keep telling people we’re vegan, which includes cheese and milk, but I have to be freegan sometimes,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. The small rescue dogs Jackie and Potter hovered at our feet trying to wait patiently for someone to put a plate on the floor. Kari’s house, a spacious trailer, is one of several that dot the sanctuary property, providing on-site housing for the primate caregivers, where they can live rent-free and a short walk or golf-cart ride to their work area. Everyone on site must agree to be vegan while on the property, often sharing communal meals at night and using the leftovers for tomorrow’s lunches. Kari’s white-blonde bob managed to always stay perfect despite Kari’s round-the-clock life dedicated to the care of and fundraising for 300 monkeys and seven parrots. I’d been immersed as a primate caregiver for four days, and I already looked like Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future.
“‘Kari, be good,’ I told myself,” she said, picking up her story. “‘Be a good person. Don’t ask him how AIDS is going to get from the sheep to him.’ And I held my tongue. It was hard, but I did it. Here you go, Jackie.” She placed her plate on the floor, Jackie pouncing on the gobs of cheese goo and cream-of-mushroom soup leftovers. “You can give yours to Potter,” she instructed me. I put my plate on the floor. Potter was happy until Jackie finished her plate and took over his. He laid down under my chair.
Kari–pronounced Carrie–relocated her monkey sanctuary from Vegas to Gainesville, and she thought she’d be courteous and introduce herself and her work to the neighbors. She and her mother picked Florida because the climate suited their growing number of new world monkeys (monkeys from South and Central America) and moving to Texas was out of the question. Her mom Googled a Florida political map, found one blue area in a sea of red, noticed it was a university town and reported to Kari that “we might be safe here. It’s called Gainesville.”
At the county commission hearing for Kari’s special land permit, several of her neighbors showed up to protest the permit on the grounds that they didn’t want themselves and their children to get AIDS and die. Apparently the urine-runs-downhill neighbor held a meeting to explain to everyone the trouble that was coming to town, despite Kari’s info packets containing documents from the Center for Disease Control and the Jungle Friends vets explaining that the monkeys of Jungle Friends were safe and not the species of monkeys who carried SIV, simian-immunodeficiency virus.
After a string of AIDS arguments, the county commissioner finally had enough and forbade anybody else from bringing up AIDS. “He was like ‘what don’t you understand, these monkeys don’t carry AIDS.’ Very exasperated. We all were.” Kari and Jungle Friends got their permit and a decent reminder that they weren’t in Vegas anymore.
Leaving the courthouse, a young woman in tears approached Kari.
“‘But Kari,’ this woman said to me, ‘I don’t want my babies to die of AIDS!’ And you know what I told her? I said, ‘Then you’d better teach your children not to come over to my place and share needles and have sex with my monkeys.'”
II. The Caregivers Take Me Under Wing: A Montage
Toothless. Geriatrics. Diabetics. Regular. Spiders.
No sunflower seeds for the spider monkeys, they don’t have thumbs. They get leaf-eater biscuits, not regular monkey biscuits. And the capuchins get about 15 biscuits in their bowls, but you can kind of eyeball it instead of specifically count. This special mix is for the geriatrics, they get more fun stuff because they’re old and we don’t have to worry too much about diets, like with the diabetics. We are very strict about their diets, we watch their sugar intake constantly. Got it down to only two who need insulin shots anymore. Lots of pet monkeys end up diabetic, you know. Toothless spiders get these special biscuits because they’re softer.
Because people have monkeys’ teeth pulled. So when they get bit it doesn’t hurt as bad.
Max gets Ensure. Blind Buddha gets boost. Gotta make sure the diabetic’s partner gets a dummy treat, you never give one monkey something and not the other. Or take something without giving something in return. It’s serious business.
If you go in the squirrel or spider areas, you’re dirty. Squirrel-ized. This means you can’t go in the munchkins or you might spread a virus the squirrels naturally carry to the marmosets or tamarins. It’s harmless to the squirrels or other monkeys and us, but it can kill the munchkins. So if anyone asks if you’re dirty, don’t take it personally.
This area is Kansas. Where the capuchins live. We have over 100. Five different species. This dirt road here is the Yellow Brick Road. It goes to Oz. The new squirrel monkeys from the lab out West live there, they’ve only been here a few months, and the Oz Boys, the male brown capuchins some people call them tufted capuchins, live down there too, by The Shire.
We have a researcher whose university wanted him to start invasive research. He said no, gave up his funding, got his monkeys moved here. That’s how we ended up with these cotton top tamarins.
No, a lot of universities euthanize their monkeys. Or sell them off to other labs. Or zoos. Retiring them to sanctuaries is a new idea. That’s how we got the 57 new squirrel monkeys. All cognitive research. Oh yes, they’re smart.
These are our freezers, Christopher Walk-in and Walk-in Phoenix. Help yourself to any of the fruits or veggies.
Do you want to go with me to give insulin shots? Great. But stand back, monkeys are wary of new people. A lot of these guys are going to mess with you until they get to know you. That’s how monkeys are.
He’s flirting with you. It’s rude to not flirt back. Rub your chest like this. Raise your eyebrows like this. Mmmmmmmneh Mmmmmmmmneh that’s capuchin for I like you, you’re good looking.
Do you want to come with us to pick up Cusco from the Orlando airport? White-fronted capuchin. He’s being retired from a zoo. Self-attacking too much. Yes. Be ready at 4:30. We’ll have the cooler packed, our crash kit ready, and we always hope they arrive alive. This guy was shipped from China to L.A. as a baby. They had no papers in China so he and his family sat there a few days, then China shipped them back to L.A. By the time the crate got to L.A., Cusco’s family was dead and he’d had to cannibalize some of them to stay alive. He was two years old then went into a zoo. So, you understand, flying is probably going to be a bad memory for him. He likes blankets, stuffed animals, and easy listening music, so let’s make sure we have all of that.
Ah, yeah. You may want to duck under their runways. They like to reach down and pull your hair. Did he get you? Not that time? Just wait.
Munchkinland is all the tamarins and marmosets. These are the cats of the monkey world. They are happy for you to serve them, and they don’t have to care about you. And you fall in love with them. Momo is now giving you stink face. That’s marmoset intimidation. Do you feel intimidated? It’s hard, I know, they’re so small and cute. We all feel bad about adoring the stink face. We all get it. That’s Zabbu, but we call her Flabbu or Zabbuddha because she has gotten so mysteriously fat. We’re working with the vet to figure out why. Look at her, that’s a big woman. Zabbu the Hutt.
Ricky self-attacks. His human’s boyfriend was about to kill him. Ricky started eating his own feet. He’s on Fluoxetine, monkey Prozac. We had a portly man volunteer here, he stopped and stared at Ricky. Ricky spent the next day attacking himself. Makes you wonder what the boyfriend looked like. Yep.
No, seriously. These banana spiders are everywhere. I walked through a web and one got in my hair. You can imagine I freaked out. That little tamarin watched the whole thing go down, no reaction, then the spider walked towards his habitat and bam! Grabbed him and ate him. It was awesome.
We’ve got so many monkeys. Eventually we can find monkeys who can be friends, companions for each other. We’ve had some luck finding mother figures for some of the younger or newer males, and they can be happy monkeys together.
This is Nicor. He’s a cotton top tamarin. His mama attacked him when he was just a baby, that’s how he lost most of his tail and one leg. He and his girlfriend had to be separated recently. He self-attacks and has bone marrow leaking out of his good leg causing him pain. So, put the Buprenorphine in the banana. Poor thing’s on enough meds for a grown man. He screams like that some days. Where did he come from? Lab.
He’s from a lab.
III. A Few Notes About Sanctuaries
They are not open to the public, they do not buy, sell or breed animals, and they do not trade animals. They are not rescues. They are specific spaces for animals to be animals without having to somehow serve humanity. If you ever purchase an admission ticket to go to a sanctuary, it is not a sanctuary. It is a zoo.
Working with animal care is very hard, very monotonous, very rewarding work that involves a lot of cleaning. I mean sweeping, scooping poop, wiping up poop, mopping up poop, sweeping up old food, mopping up old food, chopping food, putting bowls down, picking bowls up, locking gates, unlocking gates. Lifting heavy shit. In Florida, in September, this is done in 90 degree heat. You have moments where you wonder what your master’s degree thesis advisor would think about you spending hours of your day scraping fecal matter out of little metal food bowls with a dollar store spatula.
But you also get to see lab monkeys learning to live in the sunlight. You pick up a monkey in a box from the airport and, a few days later, see him engaged in plucking leaves from his own banana tree, making friendly overtures to the monkey next door. You hear stories about monkeys who lived their childhoods in basements discovering grass and learning the joys of grooming another monkey. You meet a comical pair of capuchins named Don King and Sloth who always want to clown around with you on your way home from a long day. One moment, in a fit of self-important irritation at having to yet again sweep the squirrel monkey house, you understand that these very animals had their lives stolen so humans could gain some bit of knowledge. The least you can damn do is offer them a clean place to live. All that, to me, is worth lifting heavy objects in the hot sun and using a spatula to scrape poop out of a food bowl.
IV. Afield in Trans-Species Psychology and Observations Thus Far
In August, I started an internship with The Kerulos Center in trans-species psychology and traumatology. I read an article about the center and its founder, Dr. Gay Bradshaw, in my Humane Society magazine, contacted her immediately, and began my studies in sanctuary, traumatology, and psychological kinship among species. So intensely fascinating are these studies in neuroscience, trauma and recovery, and re-thinking the notion of human privilege that I wanted hands-on experience in a sanctuary. I found Jungle Friends, and Kari invited me for a 9-day working interview to immerse myself in what it is like to be a primate caregiver in a hospice sanctuary.
Animals need sanctuary because their selves and their cultures are fractured by human will and the strange human desire to objectify animals and deny them rights to their own freedom. Basically, Descartes’ and Linneaus’ ideas of human superiority, the efficiency of categories, and the made-up hierarchy called “the great chain of being” placed humans directly under God and everything else under us in level of importance. These two “great thinkers” shaped the foundations of Western philosophies which also neatly rationalized that “savages” of dark skin fell somewhere down on the great chain, as they qualified as animals (my friends studying post traumatic slave syndrome will understand these ideas all too well). So, it was okay to enslave Africans, capture pygmys and bring them back to Europe as pets, and storm the wilderness for exotic animals to capture, massacre, enslave, and prop up the still very active industries of entertainment and exotic pet trading. Today, in 2015, we continue to act out this largely unexamined, human-held belief that humans are totally supposed to factory farm, hunt, own, capture, force to work, force to entertain, breed, experiment upon, and offer animals as ritual sacrifices.
But what about what’s happening to them and their cultures as we continue to treat animals this way? As they continue to witness us doing this to them? What do we make of the mounting evidence of their quite effective means of sharing information about us?
What are we to do about ending the very need for sanctuaries when there are segments of humans who honestly think you can contract AIDS because your sheep drink water with monkey pee in it?
The field of trans-species psychology integrates neuroscience, ethology (animal behavior) and psychology to talk about the reality of our shared existence instead of the false notion of human superiority that drives ideas asserting animals are not like humans and vice versa. We all share brain structures and processes, so what can happen to the human mind most certainly can happen to the monkey mind, dog mind, elephant mind, etc etc.
Humans long ago gave up our ability to speak the languages of nature, most of us, anyway. Some of us are working diligently to remind ourselves how it goes, and we have a lot to learn from the many people who have immersed themselves in animal cultures to rekindle the sacred trust that is our right, indigenous relationship to our animal kin. The greatest obstacle for animals is that they do not speak human, and so we say animals can not speak. Worse, they have no right to a voice in their own experience because they do not speak our language. They have no rights. Most humans, even very well-intentioned ones, even animal lovers and animal rights activists and owners of rescues, interact with animals because it gives something to the human. Money, a sense of connection to nature, a boost of pride, a shot of the kind of thrill unique to dominating another.
I have a ton of blood on my hands, friends. I didn’t get to Jungle Friends and a mid-life career change to talk about traumatology in human and nonhuman animal cultures because I’m a saint. I’ve done everything on the list of crimes above except go on a hunt. Though, I imagine my six years in my first marriage of sitting by while my husband and his dad and brother killed for sport qualifies me as an accomplice. I let it all happen because I didn’t have the legs to stand on to defend the animals except to know how dismal and angry it made me, and my emotional response wasn’t enough “proof” that it was so terribly fucked up the way we all thought about what we were doing.
Nicor screaming is the same screaming of an orphaned refugee. Different species, same trauma. Same need to be taken in.
Same need for sanctuary.
night, night beloveds. There are way too many tales to tell about my time at Jungle Friends and, by extension, my work with Dr. Bradshaw in trans-species psychology to cover in one blog. Look for more to come–I could write a book about the nine days I spent with Kari and the Jungle Friends staff, who are tremendous and generous people, at least the ones who took me under wing.
As of September 29, 2015, Jungle Friends needs primate caregivers (they will train), an office manager, and possibly some other positions. If you are interested in taking on this kind of work, Kari may be interested in you. See the Jungle Friends website for her email address.