The Orangutan Story

By Diana Haskell|December 20, 2016|About Diana, Blog|

July 1985 London Zoo, London England The summer after my sophomore year in college, I was an intern at the London Zoo. I had written letters to the head of the Board of the zoo   for an entire school year. No one answered until I suspect they tired of me because someone finally wrote back and said I could come volunteer. They did not have internships but I continued to call my position an internship. I remember every detail of the morning I walked up to the employee gate.  Even though I was barely greeted by a keeper, ushered in to a back office issued issued ill-fitting green fatigues, a pair of men’s black boots and sent directly to clean an enclosure, I thought it was a very exciting start. I was given any job that any keeper didn’t mind handing off to me  which meant mostly cleaning.  I cleaned from morning until evening with brushes and brooms and giant water hoses, sometimes on my knees, on ladders and on and on. It wasn’t glorious to most but to me, I was near the animals and even feeling their eyes upon me as I cleaned gave me rush of excitement. After a few days, I quickly made my way towards the primates. Anything chimpanzee, gorilla or orangutan was the passion behind my passion. Just walking past them in the mornings took my breath away. I had been a huge fan of Jane Goodall’s since I was a little girl. I imitated her voice and spoke about the chimpanzees of Gombe almost verbatim, with all the correct names of the chimps she observed and wrote about. I always made my family members laugh at the table when I would make the different chimpanzee calls. To me this was also serious business. Who wouldn’t want to learn everything possible about all animals and apes in particular?  My absolute dream was that I would one day understand the great apes and they would teach me things no one else could. The keepers took me in and shared their routines and taught me a lot about chimpanzees, orangutans and the gorillas. They were all men, large -framed and burly. They had tough exteriors but I remembered them to be kind and soft-hearted and very funny. /]/They keepers were all very seasoned with so many years of experience and understanding of those they cared for. We would have coffee meetings in the morning in a tiny room that we shared with two golden marmosets, tiny 2lb bright orange monkeys with tiny curved nails. They would screech and jump from the top of one person’s head to another and it was hard to focus on anything anyone was saying, not knowing when this ping pong ball like creature would grab onto my ponytail and nestle along my neck and ear. One fateful day a mother had raised her 3 yr old infant towards the bars of an enclosure to try to touch a chimp and the

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