Tuesday, June 20, 2006

MonaLisa, a wonderful young lady

On October the 29th 2001 in the canopy high above the forest floor, in a forest somewhere in northwestern Venezuela, a female howler monkey was born. She had no name because it is not the way of Howler monkeys to give each other names. She lived with her mother and her family for three short months, then boys entered the forest and shot her mother. She was kidnapped and soon she was being offered for sale at the roadside. This tragedy went unnoticed by the world; no one investigated her mother’s murder. No one wondered what had become of the little Howler monkey.

A young woman happened to be traveling along a certain road and saw a monkey being offered for sale. The boys said it was a male. But like most uninformed people, they could not really tell the difference. The female Howler has external genitals that resemble the male parts but actually are easily distinguishable. The young woman had long had the romantic idea of having a monkey as a pet. After a short negotiation she left with the little red ball of fur in a black woolen bag. She took her new pet to her apartment in Valencia. Then for one year and nine months the monkey never saw the sky, never felt rain on her face, never saw another animal, never climbed a tree. She was not unhappy. Her owner was kind and she was well fed and loved. She was also given a name. ‘Mona’, which is the Spanish word for a female monkey. Just like calling your dog ‘Dog’. Mona was of course bored. Long hours left alone in the flat whilst her owner went out to work. One day the door was left open and Mona slipped outside to investigate. She climbed a wall into the garden of an adjoining building. She was soon spotted by children playing there. There was a great hullabaloo and the parents came out to find the cause. In due course a complaint arrived with a demand that this dangerous wild animal be removed from the apartment.
The poor distraught owner had no idea what she could do with Mona. She remembered friends in Cojedes that had wild monkeys living around their farm. She decided to call them to see if Mona could be found a new home.
She was lucky and Mona was duly transferred to her new home.
For the first time in her life she climbed trees and felt the wind and rain upon her face. She felt the warm sun and rolled over in the dirt with sheer joy. Even after three years in her new home she never ventured far from the house and only climbed the lower branches of the trees in the forest around the house. Her new guardians decided that something had to be done about her name. Henceforth she was to be known as MonaLisa, being a much more appropriate name for a very beautiful young lady. It is not by any means sure that Howler monkeys recognize the concept of name. A dog responds when it is called by its owner, usually by wagging its tale. I have never notice any response when a Howler is called by a name. But there, that may be just an indication of their very independent nature. Even though I have noticed a lot of non-monkey behavior amongst Howlers in semi captivity. I can say that I have never managed to teach a Howler anything. MonaLisa for example cleans her teeth with a tooth brush after paste has been applied. (Colgate take note). She is most insistent on doing this at the same time as me. She copies me but I did not teach her to do this. She goes to the toilet in the bathroom. But again she has not been taught to do this. It’s a fact that Howlers in the forest always select a tree above a stream or river for defecation. And the loo is the nearest thing in our household to a stream.
She has a favorite blanket like many human children. She seeks this during heavy rain or thunderstorms or anything which she finds frightening. It’s very comical to see a head moving about under a blanket in the middle of the living room.
She sleeps at night huddled up in David’s bed, heads on the pillows and under the clothes of course.
Sadly, MonaLisa's former owner has never been in touch. Not once has she phoned or mailed to enquire how MonaLisa is fairing in her new home. Just another problem less. Thats not how we see MonaLisa, she is the light of my every day.

This of course is not the way it should be, but it would be unwise and cruel to turn her out into the forest.
Once a monkeys or any wild animal has been living in close proximity to humans, they should never be allowed to return to their wild habitat. They can become infected with human viruses and diseases which they can transmit to other wild animals in the forest. The wild animals of course have little or no resistance to these infections. In turn, these viruses can become modified and then at some future date returned through wild pets to the humans in an even more aggressive strain.
Monkeys live in trees in the forest. And that is where they should be. Howlers make poor pets. They become unpredictable, aggressive and vindictive as they get older. For this reason, they are not a suitable pet for a young child. I have seen several young people with very severe bites from Howlers. In most cases the attacks were completely unprovoked.

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