Thursday, February 7, 2013

Neal @ Zoo Atlanta

To start my blog off, I thought I'd share another blog post that I wrote for Zoo Atlanta back in December 2012.  I have been working at Zoo Atlanta since October 2012 as a Seasonal Keeper in Primates--primarily with lemurs and gorillas.  This is a story about Neal, my favorite ring-tailed lemur.  Neal's personality reminds me a lot of Obi, another very special ring-tail who followers of this blog will learn more about as time goes on.

Thursday, December 20, 2012
When I was a kid, I hated being called indoors and locked in for the night.  My mother always called us in for dinner when the sun was still out, and I felt I was losing valuable play time, so needless to say I was a bit resistant to her calls. Now as a lemur keeper at Zoo Atlanta, I get to fill my mother's shoes and deal with someone stuck in the same dilemma: a ring-tailed lemur named Neal. Ring-tailed lemurs are primates from the island of Madagascar, off the southeast coast of Africa. They are easily recognized by their black-and-white striped tails. They live in large female-dominated social groups and love to sunbathe in order to warm up when it is cool outside.

Of the four ring-tailed lemurs at Zoo Atlanta, Neal is one of the most independent. Ring-tailed lemurs are biologically driven to stay close to their troop, so when the three others – Ringo, Julius and Jason – come inside for the night, Neal usually comes over and sits just outside the window. With his back to me and the troop, he often sits calmly, staring out into the yard serenely and savoring the open air and last rays of the afternoon sun. Meanwhile, all I see is his back, and I get an occasional glimpse from over his shoulder along with a look that says that I have got to be kidding about coming in for the night. Even if I could explain to him that it gets too cold at night for him to stay outside in the winter, I doubt he would care. At moments like that, I am certain that he knows he has the yard to himself and that he is enjoying some quiet time alone. It is impossible to compete with that.
Although my mother might call this payback, I lose a lot of valuable time in the afternoon due to this behavior. In the future, we would like to train him to come inside using positive reinforcement. But for now, Neal will enjoy his much-earned quiet time in the window sill, free of the lemur drama that dominates the rest of the day. Seeing the tranquility in his relaxed posture and calm facial expression, I must admit: I envy him.
Alex Dunkel 
Seasonal Keeper I, Primates 

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