Texas, of course, is a long way away from Washington state. Heck, West Texas is a long way away from East Texas. (In case you were wondering, Cuba, Guatemala, Idaho and Michigan are all closer to the nearest point in Texas than that location is from the farthest point in Texas. Let that simmer, folks.)
That piece of geographic knowledge is one of the reasons why we caregivers were both impressed and thrilled to receive holiday cards from some very thoughtful elementary students who live, of all places, on the plains of Odessa, Texas.
None of these amazing young people in Mrs. Bille’s fifth grade class at Travis Magnet Elementary have ever been to the sanctuary. I’m not sure if any of them have ever seen a chimpanzee. Still, they have enabled us to decorate our veterinary whiteboard with colorful cards filled with holiday cheer, encouragement, and kindness. Their messages really warm up the foyer. For example, students wished that Missy enjoys lots of tomatoes this year, that Honey B. stays brave about all the new things in her new home, and that Burrito has lots of fun playing tug-of-war with J.B. With their help, we will do our best to make these things happen.
In my opinion, Mrs. Bille deserves some sort of award for organizing such an exceptional gift to the sanctuary (and for being one of our biggest supporters and fans, year after year).
All of the messages are directed towards individual chimpanzees and demonstrate how each student is familiar with the personalities and backgrounds of their respective favorites. It’s comforting to see young people from far away expressing empathy for and interest in the chimps, and it amazes me how much individual students seem to identify with individual chimps. It seems that they are well on their way to becoming bright and responsible adults, and I’m sure they would all make amazing chimpanzee caregivers someday.
When I was their age, I used to pester my parents constantly because I was so interested in animals, nature and science. Luckily, my family was supportive. They bought me used zoology textbooks and atlases, took me to educational programs at the local zoo, purchased a subscription to National Geographic and even sponsored sanctuary animals for my annual Christmas gift. My parents still love to joke about the night almost three decades ago when I tiptoed into their bedroom, opened my father’s eyelids with my stubby toddler fingers, and barked “Dad, what’s your favorite jungle animal?!” When he responded that he liked lions and instructed me to go back to bed, I informed him that lions inhabit open savannas and aren’t adapted to live in jungles. I didn’t go back to my room until he changed his answer to tigers.
Perhaps this is why one holiday card in particular made me smile. The bright red, glittery card reads:
Have a happy mooadays.
Dear Betsy, I love your name. And I love cows. They’re my 6th favorite animal. I hope you have a very Merry Christmas.
Well, Isabelle, you should know that Betsy had an outstanding Christmas. She and the other cattle got alfalfa and minerals, two of their favorite winter treats. She held still while I brushed her fuzzy winter coat, and then licked all of the salty minerals off of my sleeves. We’re excited for the new year because Betsy and the others will get a huge new pasture with lots of green grass after the snow melts. It’s because of people like you and your classmates that cows, chimpanzees, and all the other nonhuman animals out there have a chance at a good life after being wrongfully used by humans. Keep up the good work, Isabelle.
Also, Isabelle, I am shocked that cows are only your 6th favorite animal. Why are they so low on the list? Which animals are ranked 1-5? Feel free to send us another card with your faves.
Here are my zoological power rankings:
- Spider monkeys. They’re a lot like chimpanzees AND they have amazing tails.
- Cows, obviously. This includes all cattle because Nutmeg is a steer, not a cow.
- Chimpanzees. They would be higher on my list if I didn’t have to clean up their messy playroom every morning.
- Trash pandas (also known as raccoons).
- Quahogs (a type of clam). They live longer than any other animal and they remind me of the place where I grew up, by the ocean.
- Wolverines. Their scientific name means “the gluttonous glutton” and I identify with that. They’re also stocky, athletic and fierce, like Missy.
- Spotted hyenas. They got a bad reputation from the Lion King, but they’re very smart and have an interesting society. The female hyenas are in charge of the whole group.
- Red pandas. They’re super chill. If taking care of primates ever becomes too stressful, a friend and I plan to start Red Panda Sanctuary Northwest (RPSNW). Stay tuned.
- Leaf-cutter ants.
Thank you all for your support and for loving the chimps (and cows).
Happy Mooadays to all of you and a Happy Moo Year to everyone! Feel free to comment with your favorite nonhuman animal species.