Our family moved virtually every year when I was growing up - to vastly different cultures each time. Dad was a Navy man. We were either saying hello to strangers, or saying goodbye to new friends. Always feeling like a stranger in a strange land, animals were my solace, my comfort......my closest friends. Throughout my childhood, it was mostly limited to domestic types - from cats and dogs to ducks, geese, chickens, horny toads, snakes and rabbits.
As a young adult I sought out ways I could get closer to the magnificent exotic creatures that fascinated me. So I went to Kenya twice and helped build a safari camp there in 1989. On that dream of a trip I had the privilege of staying at the camp of George Adamson (of "Born Free" fame), and got to play with three 8-month old orphaned lions he was raising. It was one of the highlights of my life. Only 5 months later George was murdered by Somali bandits in a raid on his camp.
While living in Laguna Beach, I volunteered at a local seal and sea lion reserve. They sheltered the sick and the injured young elephant seals, harbor seals and sea lions which appeared up and down the Southern California coast. For those who were too weak or who had forgotten how to eat, we pureed their fish, adding vitamins and salt and then feeding them through a tube. Anyone for a herring smoothie?
Lions and tigers and ........LIGERS, "Oh my!"
Years ago I lived in Boston and wished to leave, but couldn’t decide where to go. So I took the entire summer off and didn’t think about it at all, to clear my mind.
I drove to South Carolina and volunteered at a large cat reserve. I was terribly naïve at that time and didn’t distinguish between a true sanctuary for exotics and one which only cloaked itself – falsely – as one. These second ones, in reality, are in the business of entertainment, to make a buck, at the expense of the animals’ welfare. Since then, I have made my “about-face” and now advocate AGAINST any use of wild animals by humans.
On the wings of eagles
In southern Utah I had the opportunity to briefly study falconry and hawking, and learned that I was not prepared for the commitment of actually owning a bird of prey. But it was a fascinating experience; I got to hike up to abandoned eagles' nests, and hold a falcon and a golden eagle. Falcons can dive up to 200 mph, and eagles have 600 pounds of crushing power in their talons. Wow!
Primates - the magnificent innocents
In the summer of 2007 I had the miraculous good fortune to serve as a volunteer at the Ape Action Africa, a sanctuary in Central Africa for over 200 orphaned primates. In addition to communing with gorillas, baboons and chimpanzees, I had the privilege of being a surrogate parent to three baby monkeys who made me laugh all the time.