August 12, 2013

A Safe Place, Far from Home

Some of us can't survive where we come from, the environment into which we are born.

For whatever reasons, our home becomes inhospitable. We become endangered. We have to leave.

We have to go somewhere else, foreign to us, perhaps not ideal.

It is safer, it is better, but it is not perfect. The new location carries its own perils, limitations, restrictions.

For survival, we must go.

It's not the same.

There are less of our kind here.

Not everyone understands us, speaks the same language, sings the same songs.

We've left behind our family, and if we're lucky, we'll find a mate and start a family of our own.

Or we may stay in a cage by ourselves for a few years...singing...hoping... eating...entertaining ourselves...waiting out our isolation, because it's not it?

It's hot.

It's cold.

It's dry.

It's sunny.

But in many ways, in most ways, it's easy here. Relocated, we can live here. We couldn't live back there.

If we are to live, this is the place. For now, anyway.

Of course, I'm talking about myself (and perhaps some fellow humans), but I'm also talking about gibbons: tree-dwelling, tropical and sub-tropical apes who have lost their habitats because of deforestation in India, Indonesia, China and other parts of Asia.

They've often been captured into the pet trade, improperly domesticated and used as a tourist attraction ("get your photo taken with an ape!"). They are social yet territorial, and, through brachiation, are almost always on the move, yet they are still able to bond in pairs.

At the Gibbon Conservation Center, rescued gibbons without a mate are introduced to one, and encouraged to breed - not only for the survival of the species, but for the suvival of the individual. Left too long alone, a gibbon will get depressed (yes, they get depressed) and will refuse to eat, leave its cage, allow it to be touched by humans.

In their native lands, there are some zoos - some good, some bad - that can rescue gibbons and give them a safe place to live out the rest of their lives (which can exceed 30 years in the wild, 40+ years in captivity).

The Gibbon Conservation Center provides perhaps a safer place, much farther away from home, where they can live longer lives, in a daily routine that mimics their behavior out in the wild (e.g. being fed 10 times a day, though they don't have to forage for their own food in the trees).

What do they do here?

They swing from limb to limb.

They groom each other, even though they're already pretty clean and don't need much of it. It's more an excuse to cuddle and be close.

They raise their young, sometimes for six or seven or eight years until their offspring reach sexual maturity and try to dominate them, becoming hostile and eventually getting expelled from the family group to go live on their own, find their own mate, and breed their own family.

There is one gibbon at the Gibbon Conservation Center who, after expulsion, still lives alone in his cage. He hasn't found a mate. He hasn't fathered any young. He's still young himself, he's got time. He sings his songs, alone. He uses his long forearms to swing. He calls out to the others. He's not depressed...yet.

But how long can he sustain this before the lack of meaning really, you know, gets to him?

The Gibbon Conservation Center is raising money right now to try to address the climate issues presented by their Southern California location, which isn't ideal for the (mostly) Asian gibbons who are used to less extreme temperature changes and more humidity. To contribute (before Friday August 16!) click here.

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