Unusual sanctuary opens to the public

Baboons are not particularly known for being nice, friendly, or cuddly! Remember the nightmare creating movie “The Omen”?!  So, seeing Chrissy, the rather large female baboon from Animal Tracks, Inc. swim, paint and stretch out belly up wanting to be “groomed” was, to say the least, surprising- if not unnerving. 

That should have prepared us for Luke the squirrel monkey trying to undo the zippered, buttoned jacket one of us was wearing…again, and again for almost an hour?! Talk about insistent little guy, even if he lost all of the fingers on one hand as a baby.    

Like most of the animals living their lives out in this Canyon Country sanctuary, he seemed quite content to help teach us humans about squirrel monkey proper etiquette, while the humans shared why they can’t be returned to their natural habitat:  usually because of human behavior.  In the case of squirrel monkeys, they are bought as pets in states that allow it, only to be tossed when it becomes obvious to well meaning, if unknowing buyers, that monkeys are not meant to be pets, like a dog or a cat. They are also quickly losing their habitat to palm oil production, which has angered animal right activists, as well as food activists who want clearer labeling of palm oil in products.

Teaching people and helping animals was the dream of Ranch director Stacy Gunderson, who along with her husband, animal trainer Tom Gunderson, ended up buying the nonprofit, when they went to the location to check on some cages for the owner, who was a friend, and getting ready to close the operation. 

Fast forward a few years later, and Animal Tracks staff and volunteers seem highly committed to helping animals who can’t return to their natural environments, and helping people understand not only the animals, but the journey that results in the need for sanctuaries.  What they describe as “close up animal experiences” are, well,  very close! If you are the type who wants to hang out with monkeys crawling all over you and are ok with grooming the menacing looking, if sweet natured baboon, their monkey experience is for you. 

There’s also the chance to let a 40 pound African feline known as a Serval  give you the sniff over (and in my lucky case, the rough tongued lick cleaning that only my much smaller cat would attempt).  Frank the Tank armadillo is stronger than anything you can imagine, and who knew that African porcupines, like the impressively sized Quillermina and Sharpton bond for life?! 

Check out the photos, and if you want to find out more, or get involved, search for their website at  Animaltracksinc.org .  If you can’t go to them, they might be able to go to your school (what kid could resist a black and white Argentine Tegu – a very large lizard that instead of eating my hand, wanted it to scratch it’s back. 

I told you, it’s a close up experience.

On the road with occasional stories from strange places,

Christina Gonzalez

Twitter: @cgfox11

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