Apr 11, 2012

K is for...

Kinkajou! I choose you!

Okay, not really. I mean, I would choose the infamous honey bear of the tropical forests of South America in a heartbeat, obviously, but I'd probably provide him with some nicer digs than a Pokeball...

So for those of you who haven't ever heard of a kinkajou, it's a small arboreal mammal that lives in the treetops. Related to the raccoon, kinkajous boast a fully prehensile (meaning it can grip objects and fully support the animal) tail, making it one of two living animals in order Carnivora with such a tail. They primarily eat fruit, frogs, the occasional bird, and smaller mammals, and have been noted to enjoy honey in captivity. They also...
Ah, but that's boring. I mean, you can wikipedia kinkajou just as easily as I can. So let me tell you about Benji, the kinkajou that I knew and loved. So, back in the days of my youth, I worked at the San Francisco Zoo, doing Nature Trail (which is a wonderful program). We would stand around on this little path with animals for the public to touch and answer any questions that arose. You know, increasing awareness of the wild places and the wild things, all that jazz.
Now there was one station, small bird, that was normally really boring. Doves, maybe a Blue Fronted Amazon Parrot (who hated me), or occasionally our crow (named Russell). But, every so often, they would bring out the Benji. Now, in case you missed the pictures, kinkajous are quite possibly the most adorable things in existence. And that doesn't begin to do them justice. Their fur is soft and incredibly dense (to protect them from bee stings), their tongues are five inches long (from experience, it can easily wrap around your hand), and they are all kinds of playful. When it was a kinkajou day, we would fight to get the small bird station.

Benji and I, we were thick as thieves. He'd wake up to see me in the early mornings, and I'd make sure he had monkey chow hidden in his enrichment. See, I worked at the Zoo for years, even wrote a wildlife show for them (there was sword fighting and cheesy lines, it was awesome). So you can bet that when I was picking my animals for a water show, Benji was on the roster every time. I've told his story so many times, that I may as well toss it out here for you too.
Once upon a time, up in Marin County, there was a police officer. It was a nice night, so he had his windows down as he was cruising around on patrol. He pulled up to a stop light and scanned the intersection, when all of a sudden he heard something from the passenger side. Glancing over, he saw this strange, red-brown animal sitting in the seat, looking up at him expectantly. He slowly rolled up the window and drove back to the station. Benji the kinkajou was donated to the SF Zoo later that month, and he's been helping with wildlife shows ever since.

Now, here's the important lesson from this story: Nobody ever came and said, “May I have my kinkajou back?” And do you know why? Because most pet kinkajous are illegally taken out of the wild. Not only that, but they can live upwards of 23 years, require lots of attention, fresh fruit daily, and specialized living spaces. Not to mention the whole “carriers of roundworm” thing. Make no mistake, these are wild animals. Cute? Sure! Affectionate? Definitely! Potentially dangerous, hard to care for, and really not a good pet? You'd better believe it. So do the world a favor and leave the wild animals in the wild where they belong.
Ah the zoo... good times, good times. Now I need to go listen to some Wildlife Theater Show music... that's right, it's time for Andreas Vollenweider (the Swiss electro-harpist) and Bella Fleck and the Flecktones. The fact that I end up writing to that music more often than not probably says something about the way my mind works...

In the end we will save only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we have been taught.  -Baba Dioum

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