Sunday, 4 December 2011

My Conversation With Flynn

What spurred me on to write this blog now was finding a photograph that I could include in it. (Isn’t it embarrassing when you see your old hairstyle?)

At TV-am I did many things as well as presenting the weather. I was encouraged to follow my passion for animals, doing my regular Animal Watch and going out and about with a crew to record items for the programme.

In 1986 I took a crew to Twycross Zoo, Miss Badham the owner (I was privileged to call her Molly) was hand rearing some primates, who for various reasons had to be taken from their mothers. There was an orang-utan, a gorilla and a chimpanzee. I recall the orang baby making the most fuss the gorilla was quite sanguine and the chimpanzee was so adorable. It was love at first sight. He was inquisitive and affectionate and he stole my heart. He became the star.

Over the next couple years I returned periodically to see Flynn on private visits. I vividly remember the time when we were playing on the grass and he managed to get into a photographers bag when he wasn’t looking and the poor chap nearly had a heart attack seeing his precious long lens being focussed by Flynn.

Many years have gone by and sometime ago I was asked if I would open the Pet Week at the zoo. They were encouraging children to come to the zoo to find out how to properly take care of their own pets. I said I would be delighted to as long as afterwards I could get into my scruffy clothes and do the behind scenes things with the keepers.
I had particularly asked to go to the chimpanzee area. At that point I was unaware that Flynn was now the alpha male. The young female keepers were unaware of my previous encounters with him.

The keeper’s area does not have double barriers between them and the animals. As we entered the back door to the enclosure Flynn being the boss was immediately aware that a ‘stranger’ was on his territory. He charged through the door and put on a magnificent display of aggression and superiority.

I sat on the floor quite near the bars in a submissive pose and he approached. He squatted on the other side of the bars. I looked straight at him and said “Hello Flynn”. He stared straight back our eyes met. I went onto say I was sorry it had been so long since I had been to see him. How it was so good to see him again and how incredible it was to see him in charge. I just kept talking and we never lost eye contact for a moment. I was so overwhelmed.

Animals in captivity need stimulation to keep them occupied. They provide a lot of this at Twycross. The primates are encouraged to search for their food. While I was talking to him he was holding the stick which he used to poke into a log which had holes drilled in it. These were filled with various tasty treats which he must get at by using the stick.

He started to poke about in the log and then one of the most amazing things that has ever happened to me, took place. He pushed the stick through the bars and gave it to me. I went through the motions of eating, I think it was honey, off the stick and returned to him.

By this time I was fighting back the tears, I was certain that he remembered me. Our eye contact remained and I felt sure he knew everything I was saying. I believe that many people who work with primates would say that it is so. They understand but have not got the means to speak so their actions say it for them.

I did tell this to a dear friend on twitter @TheLawns and when he took his family to Twycross he said hello to Flynn by name, who immediately came to the window to check him out. The world is a precarious place for so many of our closest relatives. You can help by donating to organizations who are concerned with conservation of habitat and captive breeding of endangered species.

Thank you to Twycross for the photo of Flynn, as you can see he is the Boss :)