A wildlife dilemma

dilemma /dɪˈlɛmə,dʌɪˈlɛmə/
a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two or more alternatives, especially ones that are equally undesirable.

Contrary to what most girls are taught, I’ve never  paid too much attention to my hair. When I was little my mom kept it really short and when I grew up my first act of rebellion was to let it grow long, as long as my grandmother had it. That’s as far my rebellion went, having really long hair. When I moved to Africa my hair became known as “the mane” because at 5am in the morning there was really no way of controlling that madness of waves. I cut it maybe twice a year, when I remember to be “civil” or when I need to cut off bad juju.

I have only been to the hairdresser once in South Africa (not a fan of hairstyles here!) and as luck would have it, one of the strangest experiences I’ve ever had was at one of these appointments.  

As I was getting my haircut and I chatted away, it turned out the hairdresser and I shared an acquaintance: a successful male hairdresser turned field guide (and before you ask, he was straight – we think). The odd encounter of remembering someone from your past you hadn’t thought about for ages but you were fond-of, was soon shadowed by the randomness of what happened next.

“Oh look what a cute monkey” – she said.

I turned my gaze up and looked at the reflection of the woman who had just walked in with her daughter. I saw her holding a stuffed monster or something like a troll toy. What do I know why the hairdresser would call it a monkey? Perhaps it’s another slang term from the big city I haven’t yet learned. I didn’t give it anymore thought as I had been known to get lost in translation before.

The woman had walked in to book an appointment with her daughter. My haircut got interrupted as both hairdresser and woman were looking for a convenient time for both of them to set an appointment.  She was standing by the door and she spoke I detected a slight accent – Eastern European maybe? The daughter seemed to be in charge of the conversation with the hairdresser which further lead me to believe that English wasn’t the mother’s first language. I sympathized with the daughter, my mom’s transactional laziness in a foreign language is a forced to be reckoned with.

When the diary came out to look for dates to set an appointment for the daughter’s haircut, both mom and daughter finally decided to step into the shop, there’s only so much shouting you can do from a doorframe.

“Oh how cute man” – said the hairdresser again.

 “Oh thanks, she’s a little girl and a bit scared” – replied the mystery lady. 

It took me forever but suddenly my brain woke up, my eyes locked on the creature attached to the colorful stuffed animal the woman was holding. She wasn’t just holding a stuffed animal toy, she woman was holding a monkey. A real monkey. A monkey that wasn’t grey or with a blue tinge.

 The woman wasn’t holding an African monkey; she was holding a South American one.

 I blinked twice. Had I gone crazy?. I started shaking, my heart stopped as I could feel my blood temperature raising.

 “It’s so cute, it looks different” – continued the hairdresser.

 “They are not from here, they’re from South America. That’s a capuchin monkey. ” – I blurted out.

  “Where did you get it?” asked the hairdresser, still oblivious to all the emotions going through my head.

“Oh, I bought her” replied the woman.

To that answer, my world crumbled. It was such a whirlwind of emotions from shock, to righteousness to remembering to being civil, that for once I had no words. While I played in my head all the questions I should ask, the appointment was booked and mother and daughter had left. Lost in my own thoughts, I didn’t find out more about where this monkey had come from before it was gone.

As kept rethinking about it and playing all the possible scenarios in my head, I thought perhaps this lady had the necessary permits to keep such an animal, maybe she had even rescued it from the illegal trade. There were a thousand possible “greys” that the devil was advocating for.

“She might not be able to have it as an outright pet on the permit, but she could have a permit allowing her to keep it” said the wildlife vet when I asked.

I keep replaying this scenario in my head because I’ve  realized that I’ve been privileged enough to live within a bubble; what I assumed was common sense in the area I live, turned out to be limited to a much smaller circle I share a passion with. But as everyone, I am not free of sins myself, so I keep wondering how we can begin to handle situations like these in a positive way. No one comes with a handbook and we’ve all been there, taken a course of action and subsequently regretted it when we learned better. I firmly believe we can learn to treat the natural world better when we are educated without being belittled. Telling people they’re wrong in an outburst or flat-out attacking them for their behavior won’t change the situation, it’s always more complicated than that.

I keep going back and wondering why I was so bothered by this situation. Was I so angry because she was parading the monkey around or was I angry because she just “casually” bought it? Was I angry because I didn’t help her understand why I disagreed with her choice of pet? Was I so bothered because it had happened in a time and place where I thought people knew better?
Repeatedly thinking  about this situation and the motivations behind it lead me to venture deep down the rabbit-hole of human motivations. I arrived at the end of it circling the same question:  why are we so desperate to connect with a wild species that we forget where they are meant to be?. Perhaps such profound love is a loud cry of the lack of our own meaningful relationships with other humans and our disconnect from those around us.  

Perhaps our biggest key into treating other species better and fairly, is to learn to better to our own kind. Perhaps the end of the rabbit-hole is where we should start.

10 Comments on “A wildlife dilemma”

  1. Ahhhh, Ale, the emotions you describe happen to me frequently in NYC. At the end of the Rabbit Hole is the question of which came first: poaching and trafficking in wild animals? Or human need to have the most unusual striking-looking pet (or food delicacy or mystical medical cure)? And how did it get so out of hand, globally? Mostly, I believe, the human need in the digital age is to have the most photogenic unusual looking animal they can to have their social media posts go viral and maybe even land in the newspapers or tv. My blood pressure is spiking. Great discussion. Thought provoking.

    • Well I suppose since the beginning of time us humans have had a passion for anything exotic, you can find record of exotic pets even in ancient Rome and Egypt. Now it’s fueled even more by the instant gratification of social media but there has to be a deep rooted psychological reason for this. Not everyone I’ve met that has an exotic pet does so “for the likes” a lot of people genuinely love their companions and go the extra mile for them. I just think the issue is way bigger than what we think

      • Yes. Not everyone who has a captive wild animal mistreats it. You’ve got me thinking even more now LOL. I agree the issue is way bigger than we think. I think it’s in our dna really, the need to connect with nature and wild animals — all animals really.. How we treat them probably is based on how we’ve been treated, there are also cultural beliefs. Definitely a complex thing. Consciousness raising?

  2. Ale, you are wise beyond your years. i love your blogs. i look forward to them. i always learn so much from them, things that make me stop and think about my own life. i’m conflicted when it comes to zoos but definitely against people owning exotic animals as pets. here in illinois USA the zoos have no more pachyderms. i’m happy that my state will not remove these creatures from their natal homes. thank you for another great story Ale. i look forward to the next one.

    • I understand keeping animals that have never been in the wild to an extent but every new wild animal that finds a human home I’m sure comes at a high cost for the wild populations. Some zoos do some fantastic research and conservation work, but not all of them. It’s a very tricky situation this one.

  3. Maybe your sentence “I keep going back and wondering why I was so bothered by this situation.” is based on the fact it’s not natural yet constantly happens. I follow your sentiments.

    • Maybe, it was just such an odd situation. How do you handle something like this?

      • Hi Ale. For me, it would depend on how I’m feeling at the time. I have a fiery temperament and if I am seething inside, I try not to say or do anything. I’m not very polite and don’t mince words in the face of things like that. Mostly, I encounter people being irresponsible with their dogs. I will try and speak with someone if I can. Once, on the bus, I overheard a child chatting with her grandma because she wanted to go and buy a dog. The circumstances were such that I was able to say hello and chat with them about choosing a puppy etc. And, calmly explain about retail pet shops and where the puppies come from. Then I pulled out my phone and shared a few links to local rescue groups I’ve worked with. In your situation, with someone who already has the animal especially one that is meant to be wild, you did the right thing IMO because there wasn’t anything you could say that would help, prevent them from buying the monkey, educate them. It would be like trying to talk paint off a wall.

  4. Hey Ale, I really enjoyed reading this such and interesting question that I think we all need reflect on, thanks for sharing. I really enjoy your writing style

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