At the zoo: Monkey business

Look a monkey in the eye and you might see a vague reflection of yourself.

Monkey 298.88 (photo credit: Courtesy photo)
Monkey 298.88
(photo credit: Courtesy photo)
Sometimes, the look in a monkey's eyes is so remarkably human that people mistakenly believe that monkeys and humans can be raised together. But in fact, while people may find the monkeys' antics amusing, most monkeys find people completely bewildering - to the point that being with humans can quite possibly drive a monkey insane. Before arriving at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, Pepe, a timid Spider monkey, used to live in a gymnasium, where he grew up surrounded by, and fed by, humans. His fellow Spider Monkey, Pancho, whose past was similarly human-related and horrible, was brought to keep him company and together they inhabited one of the most pastoral corners in the zoo, the southern corner of the lake beneath the wooden bridge that connects the two sides of the lake. It seemed that these two young males had found heaven on earth - a small shack to call home, a wooden pillar to climb and claw, even their own private island. Most importantly, they had each other. But the match didn't work. Both of these monkeys had grown up with humans so neither of them knew the monkey business. Pancho spent most of his time on the pillar; eventually, his caretakers decided that he would be better off in another zoo. Not wanting to leave Pepe alone, the zoo brought in Walker, a friendly normal monkey who had grown up in a monkey-pack. Sure of his monkey-identity and filled with monkey-self-confidence, Walker tried to be friendly to Pepe. But Pepe screamed and shouted and was terribly aggressive towards his new friend. Walker isn't one to back down. Just like his human TV namesake (Chuck Norris of the Walker series fame), Walker-the-monkey was tough and confident enough to prove to Pepe that he would be the dominant male. Whatever Pepe thought about it, Walker was it and Pepe had to live with that. Until George came along, that is. Like Walker, George had grown up in a pack of monkeys and he knew how to walk the monkey walk. George and Walker bonded immediately, talking the monkey talk and cuddling and grooming each other. Poor Pepe is clueless. When Noa Danin, the monkey caretaker, comes into their space, George and Walker continue in monkey abandon, strolling in and out of the shack and completely ignoring the human interloper. Pepe, on the other hand, runs towards her, sending out his fingers and tail towards her, searching for the love and affection that he can't get from his fellow monkeys. And yet, in some ways, monkeys are very similar to humans. Sometimes even healthy, self-assured monkeys find life a bit too difficult. A few days ago, George tried his luck walking the rope connecting the shack and the island. He fell and now he's suffering from a traumatic response. Just outside the shack, Yehuda, another monkey caretaker, sits with his boots in the lake, waiting for George to make his moves on the rope. But George won't move. For hours, again and again, he touches the rope and withdraws his hand. Tough as he is, Walker can't convince George to grab the rope. Walker may be the law-monkey in this part of the state, but even he can't impose his will on everyone. And even he can't make life perfect for the ones he loves.