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Resistance and Gratitude

Somebody appreciaes the snow

This is me still not feeling much like writing.  At least this week I’ve been doing the part where I write my blog in my head.  That’s an improvement, and better is better.

I watch everyone I know sink into the cabin fever, long winter blues at this time of year.  The longer brighter days are great, but they’re not enough when we get yet another 6″ of snow.  I’m grateful to have a birthday this week.  It gives me something to look forward to and it gives me a reason to get out and celebrate.

I have the best neighbors!

I’m grateful for the neighbors, who are Karina’s age.  I haven’t had to lift a shovel all weekend and I was able to get out of my driveway to spend Sunday with a good friend wandering through the Como Park Conservatory and Zoo.  We are very fortunate to have this haven in the depths of winter.

When you walk in your skin celebrates.  There’s moisture in the air!  Your eyes delight in the variety of shades of green.  The conservatory staff is very contentious about rotating the small plants though so there are always some manner of blooming orchids.

It’s a mini tropical vacation

This time I was delighted by how many things were in fruit.  There were limes on the lime trees, chocolate pods on the cacao, star fruit and prickly custard apple.  (Now I am on a mission to try prickly custard apple or Brazilian paw paw.)  We found odd buds and blooms everywhere.  In the conservatory hope for spring thrives.

Thursday was an adventure.  Karina had the evening off (a rare occurrence) so we’d planned for her to take me out for my birthday.  Then her whiskey distributor invited her to a launch party for Jameson IPA.  (They age their whiskeys in beer barrels (caskmates) and brew their Irish Pale Ale in whiskey barrels).  I was game and we had a good time.  It was not too big a party, probably because of the snow (the first 4″ was Thursday, the 6″ was Saturday).

Don’t know what we’re getting into, but we’re game.

We critiqued the drinks the same way we often have dinner.  Debating the merits and downfalls and discussing how to use or adapt the idea.  Mostly we were pleasantly surprised.  Neither of us are big IPA fans, but the mixed drinks were well balanced and the caskmates added a level of nuance to the whiskey.

“After party” because Karina needed to do a little more “homework” checking out local hot spots

I’ve always maintained that the older you are, the longer you get to celebrate your birthday.  I started last Thursday and I’ve got plans (so far) through most of March.  That’s something else to be grateful for!


Here are a few more photos from the conservatory, in case you needed your own touch of spring:

Even the ferns are having babies!

Cocoa pods in the tree

Bright colors breaking up the greens


I’ve written about the Como Zoo before:

Apparently it’s a good place for me to go when I’m “resistant”

They’ve finished the expansion, but we didn’t see any great apes Sunday


Great Apes

I just finished reading “The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary” by Andrew Westoll.  I read a lot and I read a wide variety of stuff.  I don’t even remember why I put this book on my library list.  I’m glad I did.

Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary

Non-fiction usually takes me a lot longer to read than fiction.  It’s harder to find a chunk of time when I know I’m actually going to need to focus on what I’m reading and think about it.  I usually do get overloaded with non-fiction and need to put the book down and think about what I’ve read.  I breezed through this one.

Not to say that the material that’s covered is easy.  Andrew Westoll talks a lot about the way Chimpanzee’s have been used for medical research in this country.  He acknowledges that the Chimps in the sanctuary are, by any wild Chimp standard, insane.  He describes in detail the kind of acting out, depression and self mutilation these Great Apes are capable of.  But he is essentially writing a memoir.  The intimacy of his experiences interwoven with the facts and history of the Sanctuary and the personal stories of each of the Chimps that are housed there makes this book a story rather than a text.

It gave me a lot to think about.  I knew of course that animals of all kinds are used in medical research.  In my naivety I believed that they were generally treated humanely.  I drank the drug companies’ kool-aid when they said that research on Apes made huge advances for treatment in difficult diseases, like HIV and Hepatitis.

I’m seeing a return on Facebook of posts about the way animals are treated in traditional circuses. Anyone who’s ever watched a TV show about a puppy mill can believe there are individuals out there who badly mistreat their animals.  But scientists are supposed to be smart people who know better.  I hadn’t connected the dots.

Our government actually owns a good many of the Great Apes being used in research.  The rest are owned by the drug companies.  If a scientist or a lab assistant recommends that an animal be retired from a trial for the sake of the animal, the same folks who cut deals with insurance companies to exclusively cover their crap medicine get to decide the outcome for the animal.

Schroder: Lowland Gorilla at Como Zoo

There are research labs, there are circuses, there are sanctuaries, and there are zoos.  I know that Como Zoo in St. Paul, MN houses Apes and I wanted to know where they came from.  I couldn’t find out on line so I spent the day at the zoo.

Jambu: male Orangutan at Como Zoo

Como Zoo has 4 Orangutans and 2 lowland Gorillas.  All of them were bred in captivity.  In fact the Orangutans include 2 females and a male, 2 of whom are the parents of the 4th.  The Gorillas are both male, as family units for Gorillas tend to kick out the adolescent males into “bachelor tribes”  Since 50% of the captive bred Gorillas are male there is a need for all male housing.

Sadly, the facilities at Como are pretty sad for our genetically close brethren.  Gorillas are shy creatures and there is no room for them to hide.  Especially now that it’s too cold for them to go outside they don’t have anywhere near enough space.  I’ve been in a hospital room for 3 weeks.  You go nuts!  They’ve spent their lives in facilities like this.  It’s a great improvement on the old sterile cages (the ones the lab animals are kept in) but they’ve got a long way to go.

Amanda the Artist: Orangutan at Como Zoo

There is money for a huge upgrade to the facility at Como.  It won’t be done until spring of 2013, if everything goes according to plan.  They are hoping to have space to acquire a family grouping to promote the breeding conservation program as well as a space for a small bachelor troop.  The conservation is great, but there doesn’t seem to be a plan to reintegrate the Great Ape population into the wild.  There isn’t room there anymore either.  It’s why they are endangered in the first place.

Amanda's finger-painting at Como Zoo

I don’t have answers.  I’m not even sure how I feel about the ethics of the situation.  Clearly, mistreating animals in research facilities is just as bad as mistreating them anywhere else.  The zoos are trying to come around but they are limited in both funding and understanding.  Do we condemn them for not doing enough or congratulate them for the work they can do?  Are we, through our intervention, creating a new culture for Gorillas?  How dare we!?!

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