Thursday, November 22, 2007



NOVEMBER 7, 2007

As usual, I have been buying local papers to see what is of interest to the people in the community. Here are some highlights:

Sumter Express:
After four months of non-dredging due to low water levels, the Wysong Coogler dam has been raised and water levels have increased enough to allow dredge work to continue again on Lake Panasoffkee
A list of Sumter County’s 10 Most Wanted (photos, names and crimes listed)
Photos of the winners of the Tropicana 4-H speech contest from Bushnell Elementary School
Dr. Charles “Chuck” Mojock, President of Lake Sumter Community College, will be the guest speaker at the Wildwood Rotary Club.
A photo and story of the Sumter Sheriff’s employees who donned costumes for Halloween
Wildwood’s fighting Wildcat football team beats The Villages

Orlando Sentinel:
Mayor charged with molesting kids
Killer asks for another hearing
A developer is offering 480 acres to Port Orange council, in order to add to the 2,000 acre Doris Leeper Spruce Creek Preserve. The City Council is to vote on whether to spend the money or not
A Venezuelan immigrant whose American contractor husband was killed in Iraq must leave the country
Fans of the Orlando Magic basketball team can’t watch their team on TV because of a complex business deal
Universal Studios announces that its theme park will be turning green and vows to become an industry leader in environmental impact

This has been a pretty exciting week so far, and promises to continue as long as I have the rental car. I wish I could afford to keep it for another week. However, the extra insurance is the killer. Now that my Subaru is in storage, I have only fire and theft insurance, so I can’t use my policy to cover liability here in Florida.


My journey today took me 2 ½ hours down the road from Florilow Oaks to the Center for Great Apes, otherwise known as Center for Orangutan and Chimpanzee Conservation ( Its mission is “to provide a permanent sanctuary in a safe and enriching environment for orangutans and chimpanzees in need of long-term care.” The majority of the animals rescued were ex-pets who outgrew their owners, and “entertainment” apes who grew too strong and dangerous to be used in movies, commercials, etc. In the case of the latter creatures, they were often sold to labs for experimental research and consequently arrived at the Center completely traumatized. Other apes are discarded by zoos as being “surplus” to their needs (e.g. hybrid orangutans (Bornean x Sumatran crosses). Ex-pets are often treated as a cosseted member of the family until they grow too strong and dangerous; Owners then shut up the bewildered animal in small cages, sometimes in a garage or a basement. .

Patti Ragan was a successful entrepreneur in Florida who founded the Center in 1993 as a nonprofit organization, in order to provide a permanent home for

what started out as five young apes. This number has risen currently to 43, with a waiting list. The Center is located in a rural area, surrounded by citrus trees, and is not open to the public, but thanks to Jane Dewar, I was allowed to visit, and discovered an old friend. Melanie Bond was an orangutan keeper at Washington Zoo for 32 years before retiring. She now lives next door to the Center and spends a few days each week working there. Melanie and I met at various keeper conferences in the past, and I had visited her zoo, but we lost touch once I left the zoo field. Nevertheless, she welcomed me warmly and was my tour guide for the day.

I have to agree wholeheartedly with Melanie that the Center is the best facility in North America for orangutans and chimpanzees, just as Gorilla Haven is for gorillas. I have now seen the best.

The apes who can be housed together share a huge geodesic dome enclosure, with lots of ropes, swings, enrichment toys and logs. But what makes these enclosures so unique is that they are joined by a system of elevated tunnels that
wind through the adjacent woods.

There are also heated houses where the apes spend the night. The Center is surrounded by fruit trees, palms, ferns and a creek, and although these apes have never seen their natural habitats, I expect that they derive some comfort from being surrounded by this tropical vegetation. There is also a closed circuit monitoring system installed in and around the Center. Melanie showed me the commissary where only the best foods are prepared for meals.

Part of chute system that surrounds the property
Melanie introduced me to each animal as we walked around. Grub Chimpanzee likes to create masks out of cardboard, and I was honoured that he made one

Melanie with my mask
for me. He seemed to think that I needed very large eyeholes, though!

Butch is another chimp character. One orangutan has no arms (her mother was an entertainment animal and bit off her baby’s arms in the compound where she was kept). That speaks volumes for the way these poor performing animals are treated.

One very large and handsome male orangutan came into one of the tunnels for a visit. This poor animal had been a pet and treated like a member of the family until he grew too large. He was then shoved into a small cage in a basement, along with three chimpanzees and more or less deserted by the owner. It took some negotiating for Patti to obtain these animals, and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for this magnificent animal who stared down at me. How could he possibly understand the change in his circumstances? Although his circumstances are much improved, he seemed to be very lonely. Yes, orangutan males are solitary, but this was no wild-born example of his species.

Another chimp we met was Bubbles, one of many whom Michael Jackson owned. He was in the habit of discarding his animals once they grew up. Apparently, there were many versions of Bubbles.

Knuckles is a special animal. He was born with cerebral palsy, and he is Melanie’s special charge. She spends a lot of time with him giving him physiotherapy and she tells me that he has improved remarkably from when he first arrived. He can shuffle, and can feed himself with difficulty. I was particularly impressed with the special building that was constructed for him for his needs, particularly as he grows to adulthood and cannot be handled in the same hands-on manner that he gets now. The wooden beds are just off the floor instead of up high; he has equipment to help him with his physiotherapy; there is room for a keeper to spend the night if needed. Everything possible is being done to help prepare for his future.

There are a few buildings on the property set aside for interns and staff to stay. Many of their workers are local people, but some need to spend the night there as well. Melanie is serving as a mentor for these individuals, in the hope that they will decide that zoo keeping is their lifetime profession. They could have no better mentor, as Melanie is one of the best.

The original small barn has been left and repaired, along with the outhouse – an interesting contradiction to the modern setting around it.

All too soon, it was time for Melanie to continue her work; Patti was busy cultivating two potential donors – an important aspect to sustaining a non-profit organization. So, after purchasing a great orangutan t-shirt, I departed for the long drive back to Florilow Oaks. And this time it took me three hours because of a traffic accident.

On the way back, I stopped to get some groceries and bought Ripley a squeaky toy. I am pleased to say that she loved it, and spentd the evening making it squeak.

NOVEMBER 8, 2007

I had planned to attend the 8:00 a.m. coffee social in the rec center at the campground, but I slept in.

Since I’ve left Ripley on her own most of this past week, I decided to take her with me in the car. I had noticed a sign for a bird sanctuary nearby, so we headed over there, only to find that it is not accessible to visitors. So, I turned south on I 75 with the idea of going to the Withalacoochee State Park; however, they don’t allow dogs in the park, not even during the day. So, two strikes down, one to go. After checking with the local Visitor Center, I headed to the county park – but again, no dogs allowed. Since we were on a fairly quiet side road, I decided just to walk Rip around the neighbourhood on the grassy verge. It was better than nothing, but I had hoped to find somewhere where I could let Rip off leash, as she loves to do.

On the way back to the campground, we passed an auction center where livestock and exotic animals are sold. Unfortunately, it is still legal to buy any kind of animal at these public auctions, and consequently some very unsuitable “pets” are purchased – and discarded when they become dangerous.

I listened to a local radio station targeted at blacks. It was interesting to listen to the lyrics of the songs which dealt primarily with how men perceive women and women perceive men. The radio host discussed at length his perception that many blacks are finding nooses hanging in their workplaces and that racial bias is still practiced in determining who gets promoted. People phoned in to agree with him and gave personal examples. I guess I’ve been naïve in this regard.

NOVEMBER 9, 2007


Kathy Sauviac is a dear friend of Jane Dewar, who contacted Kathy on my behalf. She was once a gorilla keeper at Disney Animal Kingdom, but suffers from ALS and is now confined to a wheelchair; she currently works in the Disney office. She agreed to meet me at the gates to Disney Animal Kingdom, along with her black Lab service dog Skye, and show me around.


After paying $12 to park the car, I boarded one of the shuttle trains to get to the entrance.

Entrance to Walt Disney World

I had some previously conceived idea about Walt Disney World, but was awed by the size of the facility. There are different theme parks, resorts, water parks and Disney Downtown within this huge complex. Every staff member, no matter what level, is trained to ensure that the visitor has a memorable experience – for example, I asked one employee heading off for his break where I could recycle my pop can. He offered to take the can and place it in the correct bin.

While I was waiting for Kathy, I walked around and watched various Disney

characters appear for photo ops. Children excitedly lined up in front of their favourite, whether it be Mickey, Goofey, Rafiki, Squirrel, Raccoon (I don’t know their names), etc. they each had a chance to have their photo taken by an admiring parent, and to ask for an autograph. It was fun to watch these characters with their oversized gloves sign their character’s name on a piece of paper!

Kathy is a very warm, kind and gentle woman who certainly has had her share of hard times, but who remains upbeat through it all. I couldn’t help but admire her tenacity of spirit as she guided me around Africa. We started out in the Mombasa Marketplace gift shop where she used her 40% discount to enable me to pick out some Christmas presents for folks back home. We then spent some time with the two gorilla groups, one of which is a bachelor group of four males, and the other is a male and female. Their exhibits are very naturalistic, complete with waterfalls and lots of vegetation, so that the gorillas can actually disappear if they wish to do so. The exhibits are surrounded by artifacts indicating a field station and good graphics about gorillas. Everywhere I looked, I couldn’t help but imagine that I was actually in Africa!

I couldn’t leave the area without visiting the meerkat exhibit.

There were only two animals out, and I am assuming that the others were down in their burrows, of which there were quite a few along with grasses and a termite mound for sentry duty. The exhibit was quite large, and was separated by an invisible moat with an exhibit of antelope behind it.

After wandering around the gorilla section that included colobus monkeys, birds, fish and hippos, Kathy arranged a Fastpass for me to cut the line waiting

View from safari vehicle

to board the Kilimanjaro Safari vehicle. Chris, our guide welcomed us aboard the safari (which had suitcases and other paraphernalia on the roof) and, after checking in with the ranger (a recorded African voice), we took off for a journey around the African savannah area where giraffes, gazelles, elephants, rhinos, and other African animals roam freely. The road twists and turns; there are bumps and jars; we crossed fast-flowing rivers just as you would if you were truly on safari. I must admit that the Disney people really have it down to a science to ensure that visitors have a great experience throughout the parks.

Gnu on safari ride, one of many animals

Kathy and Skye were waiting for me at the other end , and we returned to the gorilla area for another look, and managed to catch the hind end of one of the bachelor males before he disappeared into the trees. We had better luck in seeing the largest male (I’m afraid that I’ve forgotten his name) who was almost hidden as he sat under a large tree.

It was then about time for Kathy to leave for her doctor’s appointment, so we said our goodbyes. I can’t express enough my gratitude for the kindness that Kathy showed me, and I feel that I have a new friend. She has also offered to look for more Christmas gifts for me at the employees’ sale next Tuesday when Disney articles are really slashed in price.

Kathy is able to drive in her special van, but it is getting old. For more information in this regard, please see the section about her at

After she and Skye left, I took the Wildlife Express Train. The station could have really been in Africa with its posters on the wall, old-fashioned clock on the roof and the train itself, with bicycles, luggage, etc. tied on the roof.

We journeyed through some of the back areas of Animal Kingdom, to Rafiki’s Planet Watch. This area features many interactive displays of how the average person can help to make our planet better, starting with a simple bird feeder, to a talking garbage can that charmed the children. There is also a petting zoo and an animal encounter.

But more interesting to me, this is also the home of the nutrition centre, and more specifically the domain of another old friend. Eduardo Valdes started off as a keeper at the Toronto Zoo after emigrating from Chile. However, he returned to university to get his doctorate and became the Nutritionist in charge of the diets for all the zoo animals. After working in this capacity for several years, Eduardo was wooed away to head up the staff of 22 at Disney Animal Kingdom. After asking one of the staff members to contact Eduardo, I didn’t wait long for him to appear to see who it was who was asking for him. Although we have both aged, it wasn’t difficult for us to recognize each other and embrace. We spent some time talking about old times and catching up on our lives. Eddie is very busy, not only with supervising his staff and developing diets, but he also travels to various Central and South American countries to supervise research projects and to train staff.

Eduardo and Marilyn

It was great to see Eduardo again after so many years, but after about an hour he needed to get back to work, and I headed off to have my photo taken with Rafiki, who was wandering around in this area. I then boarded the train to return to the station.

It was getting on in the day, so I hurried over to Asia to see Komodo dragons, giant fruit bats, birds, tapir, Komodo dragon, gibbons and tigers. Again, I almost felt as though I was in Asia surrounded by a riverside eating area, Serka
Zong (where one could buy a native musical instrument), a tea shop, street vendors and ruins of a palace, especially around the tiger exhibit.

The Kali River Rapids sounded kind of interesting, so I decided to try it. I boarded a round raft along with several others and we were instructed to put all our cameras, etc. into a protective box. That should have warned me right there. Our raft headed out into a river, climbed up a ramp and then swirled down into rapids heading around corners with trees bordering each side. Our round raft twirled around in the water and as we came to one particular rapid, I got drenched!

After retrieving my dry camera, I did my best to wring out my clothes, and decided it was time to head towards the exit. On the way, I stopped to watch the gibbons on their island, with a great climbing apparatus around a simulated ruin. The baby gibbon was showing off its skills zooming around on the bamboo rods.

I could see Discovery island on the other side of the river, but had no time to explore. I did manage to get a photo of part of the Tree of Life – a beautifully carved artificial tree.

There was much more to explore, but unfortunately no time left. I would have liked to have seen the Festival of the Lion King, for example—a tribal show of music, dance and performances.

This was the last day of my rental on the car, and it was now a challenge to return it before they closed, especially since I took a wrong turning when I left Walt Disney World. However, with luck I managed to get on to the Florida Turnpike and arrive at Rent A Wreck a half hour before they closed. Al very kindly drove me back to Florilow Oaks on his way home, and I was greeted by an ecstatic Ripley.

NOVEMBER 10, 2007


Dick had told me that he had had a new antenna installed so that I now could pick up the wi fi reception inside my RV. Previously, I had to go and sit on the porch of the office to pick up the signal instead of that of the guy in the house on the other side of the fence behind my RV. He has a password-protected service and I was getting very frustrated at not being able to connect until Dick explained what the problem was.

Since I no longer have a car, I spent the day housecleaning, catching up on emails and taking Ripley for walks.

My campsite at Florilow Oaks with Ripley

I am beginning to feel sick – headache, muscle ache and sore throat. I’m sure I’ve picked up the virus that the child at the Kennedy Space Center had. If you will remember, he sat behind me and coughed all over me.

NOVEMBER 11, 2007

Today I feel quite ill and feverish.


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