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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

No chimps were hurt during the testing of this device...

Another victory to me! Today I tested out my enrichment devices at the Johannesburg Zoo! It was awesome! They did exactly what they were meant to do and nothing broke! Including the chimps!
The story of the devices is a long and winding one, a story that I shall recount to you, bloggers. It all began in about February, before my project proposal, when I was designing my devices. I started off asking my supervisor what I could use as an enrichment device for the chimpanzees. He suggested that I choose something that would be strong and functional. I mentioned to him that I was thinking of using a feeding tube (see photograph) because that way we could provide an incentive for the chimps to go to a particular area of their enclosure. To this he agreed and suggested that I then speak to the respective zoo keepers about what they would prefer.

I did exactly that. The first person I spoke to was the primate curator at Johannesburg Zoo. She's also a good friend of mine and was very nice and helpful about it all. I asked her what she would prefer that I use for the devices and she said that she would be happy for me to use any material to make my feeding tubes. So, feeling confident that I was on the right path, although still a little lost about what I should be using, I approached the head of the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) to ask her what she thought would be appropriate for me to use at the JGI sanctuary in Nelspruit.

She was not as open to the use of any materials. She said that the manager of the sanctuary would most likely not be happy with me using artificial materials as they would prefer to keep their animal enclosures as natural-looking as possible (as an aside, I'd like to point out that their enclosures are surrounded by a 3m high electric fence, are full of alien invasive plants and the animals get fed food - such as cream-cheese and doughnuts [ever SO natural] - by the tourists that visit the sanctuary, so clearly my placement of a plastic tube in their enclosure would have had a catastrophic effect on this pristine environment which they have created and manage...yeah right). So, I said I'd try to carve these devices out of wood.

There were two major obstacles associated with this scenario. Firstly, where does one obtain sections of tree trunk that have not been treated with chemicals of any kind (another requirement for their immaculate ecological setup) from which to carve? Secondly, how exactly does one hollow out a log to form a tube? As far as the second question goes, I'm sure there are special machines that have been designed and built for this express purpose. But, alas, I don't have any such miracles of technological advancement.

Finding logs proved to be considerably more difficult than expected...My first thought was to ask tree fellers for the logs. However, many of the tree fellers that I contacted would cut their trees into sections that were too small for me to be able to use. The pieces are easier to move that way, for those who are wondering why they cut them up. Others would cut me large sections but of woods that were not suitable (too soft or poisonous).

So, after months of searching, and almost giving up hope entirely, I drove into university one day and to my delight, there were people cutting down trees all over campus! As it turned out, many of the trees had been sceduled to be felled for some time, it's just that nobody knew about it. So I, in my joy, drove around campus collecting bits of tree and shoving them into my car. Helen (I am eternally grateful!!!) helped me and between the two of us, I think we developed enough lower back pain to last a lifetime.

Now that I had a car full of logs and a renewed sense of imminent success, I went home to try carving one out. This too proved much harder than expected! Firstly, simply using a chisel to carve away was NOT doing the job at all! I resorted to using a drill to drill out lots of holes and then chisel in between them. This was working very well until I killed our drill...

So I borrowed my uncles drill (also, to who I am eternally grateful!!!). I didn't kill that one. But still the process was taking a long time. Eventually (another drill-bit later) I'd managed to hollow out a log. My arms were aching and I had blisters all over my hands, but it was at last finished! It had only taken me...about two weeks.

I believe it was the next day that I went to a meeting with one of those in charge at Pretoria Zoo. There, I learned, they would not allow me to use wood because it was unhygenic (because as everybody knows, there are no germs in the wild...) and that they would only accept plastic.

I had a car full of tree trunks, blisters all over my hands, a sore back, six months worth of planning and searching and now I was told that it had all been in vain.

Not being one to give up that easily, I went back to the drawing board - this time, with the intention of making my devices out of PVC piping. But, to my horror, I remembered that the JGI people had said that I couldn't use un-natural materials. So I was totally screwed. At the suggestion of my supervisor, I contacted the JGI again and asked them what they would prefer for me to use.

Suddenly, they changed their tune. PVC was okay! SIX BLOODY MONTHS DOWN THE LINE!!!

After a minor emotional breakdown and (probably) a lot of grumpiness, I began designing my devices anew. This time, I intended to use high-pressure water piping due to the fact that it is incredibly strong and there would be no chance of the chimps getting their hands stuck inside (the diameter of the pipe is 200mm). This was then approved by all parties! Again, I was thrilled and riding the wave of my brilliant recovery.

I then told my supervisor about how much it would all cost.

He recovered surprisingly quickly and then agreed to go ahead with it. By this stage, it had been 9 months since I'd started my degree, and I'm sure he was very worried that at that rate, I'd never leave. So I made all the appropriate arrangements to buy the materials. It was then that I learned that it was standard practice for one to buy things first, and then claim the money back from the university. I didn't have a small fortune, so more drama ensued in trying to obtain money from the university before buying the material.

Eventually, the money came through and I bought everything. As luck would have it, there turned out to be a university handy-man who was willing to help me with the construction of my devices and he (once again, I'm eternally grateful!!!) gratiously built them for me.

I now have an odd 10 devices lying about in my lab and I can now say that they have been tried and tested and WORKED!!! YAY!!

And now you know the back story of my chimp feeder/toys!

1 comment:

  1. Oh my gently caress. I didn't know things were that infuriating for you! I hope it makes the sense of victory all the more powerful for you, son.