A Nostalgic Trip to See the Japanese Macaques of Texas
Last month my daughter Sorcha and I made a trip that we never thought or dreamed we would do again. On October 1, 2015 we arrived in Dilley Texas; 20 years after our first time there and 17 years after our last. It was amazing how much had not changed and how familiar Dilley was after so many years. As exciting as it was to once again see this small town that we lived in so long ago, it was not the reason for our nostalgic trip. We were there to once again visit a special place that is home to my favorite monkeys; Japanese macaques.
Twenty years prior, in 1995, I drove all the way to Dilley from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. I was an undergrad student at the University of Alberta and was in Dilley for a field school taught by Dr. Mary Pavelka from the University of Calgary. Back then the sanctuary it was known as the Texas Snow Monkey Sanctuary and was located at a local ranch just outside of Dilley. It was an unforgettable summer!
Yes, that is me 20 years ago with my daughter Sorcha, who was then 4 years old on the left and 6 years old on the right.
In 1997, I once again made the long drive to Dilley with my daughter, but this time as a University of Alberta master’s student. Under the supervision and mentorship of my advisor, Dr. Linda Fedigan, I was there to study the ‘Relationship between ovarian cycle phase and sexual behavior in female Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata)’; the tile of my thesis. Spending my days among the monkeys that year was one of the most memorable and special times in my life; despite all the many run-ins with the cacti. Getting to know the individual monkeys and all the unique personalities was an exceptional learning experience. After our time was finished, it was a teary farewell to a place we called home for the past year. I returned to Canada with incredible and fond memories of my time among the snow monkeys of Texas.
Though I no longer got to see the monkeys every day, they were always on my mind as I wrote my Master’s thesis, published journal papers, and just a few years ago I was invited to write a chapter in the book “The Monkeys of Stormy Mountain: 60 Years of Primatological Research on the Japanese Macaques of Arashiyama.”
Always expecting to someday return, life moved on and different roads led me further from that dream. Then earlier this year, I moved to Houston Texas and was within reach once more of Dilley and the sanctuary. After getting in touch with Tim Ajax, who was now the director of the sanctuary, I was invited for a visit. My daughter, who is living in Montreal, flew down for the occasion and we made the considerably shorter drive from Houston to Dilley.
After taking a trip down memory lane in Dilley, we headed out to the sanctuary early the next morning. I was surprised how easily I remembered the roads and turns that took me to the sanctuary every day so long ago. The sanctuary, now known as the Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary after the Animal Protection Institute took over the management back in 1999, was almost exactly as I remembered.
We got our first sight of the monkeys as we drove down the road to the main buildings and it truly seemed surreal. Tim was so gracious as to spend a considerable amount of time giving us a tour of the whole facility. Riding in the back of a truck through the main enclosure again, watching the monkeys appear from the trees to get their fill of fresh vegetables and monkey chow, seeing those new, but familiar faces, and smelling the familiar air was all just amazing! Tim then showed us the impressive expansion of the facility and all the new enclosures and enrichment. The sanctuary has grown considerably and is now also home to baboons and vervets. I was immediately impressed by the new enclosures and some of the ingenious designs that provide naturalistic and safe homes to the many monkeys. I was also very impressed by the great work the staff were doing to take care of all these monkeys. The dedication and commitment that Tim and his staff have is inspiring.
We drove home with new memories of the sanctuary and a promise to return again without another 17 years passing.
These monkeys are very special to me and I applaud the efforts being made by the Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary. I hope you will appreciate their effort as well and help support them. You can adopt a sanctuary resident (how cool is that!), purchase useful and vital items from their wish list, become a member of Born Free USA, shop the Born Free USA’s store, help feed their local felines, or just make a good old fashioned contribution! Check out their page to see what you can do! Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary – Get Involved!