INNISFAIL — For the past four summers Dallas the snow macaque has been one of Discovery Wildlife Park’s most beloved residents.
Adoring crowds of school children squealed at her antics as she entertained outside her cage at the side of her trusted “mom” Debbi Rowland, who saved her life after the monkey’s dramatic birth five years ago.
“She has a huge following. Lots of people have come out here to see her,” said Rowland, who runs the zoo with husband Doug Bos.
But as Dallas matured into an adult, nature exerted its hold and she has become less showman and more snow macaque. In the world of macaques that means she has become more unpredictable and is showing the aggression that her kind use to survive in the wild.
“For a monkey, especially a macaque, she’s been awesome with people,” said Rowland. “(But) monkeys are aggressive animals, especially the macaque family. They are one of the more aggressive species.”
“If you watch the troop of monkeys, if someone gets mad, someone gets bitten. That’s just what they do.”
Thanks to Dallas’s unconventional upbringing, the little snow macaque was more friendly than fierce.
Born in April 2004, the newborn was found in her cage abandoned by her young mother.
“We thought she was dead when we picked her up.”
But the cold, tiny body suddenly took a breath and Rowland gave her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and nursed Dallas back to life. The two became inseparable and Rowland loved to cuddle and play with her.
“We used to call her a miracle monkey. Now we call her the monster monkey,” Rowland said with a chuckle.
Dallas’s newfound mean streak is no fault of hers. It comes with being an adult macaque. The monkeys typically reach adulthood at four or five years and Dallas started exhibiting more aggressive behaviour in January and February this year.
“It was almost like teenage rebellion,” she said.
Rowland had always managed to keep Dallas in line when she got too aggressive by biting her back. “If she got aggressive and nipped me I’d grab her hand and bite her arm.”
It was the only way to send her the message in a way the monkey could understand. But now Dallas realizes that she is stronger than Rowland. In Dallas’s mind, she is the dominant female and Rowland has become the subordinate female, which means the handler no longer gets the same respect and can’t exercise the same control as she once did.
All of this means that it is too risky to let Dallas run around on a leash and meet and greet the public like she once did. Dallas still holds court, but now must do it from within her cage, which is the first outdoor enclosure zoo guests come across. Inside, she has her toys, climbing ropes and shelter.
Rowland is now looking for a way to give Dallas some company. Putting her in the cage with the zoo’s other eight macaques is not the answer. While Dallas may think she’s dominant, she would get a quick and harsh lesson in the laws of the jungle by the real monkey leaders.
“I wouldn’t be able to do it. She would get beat up pretty good. They are vicious little animals when they want to be.”
A zoo in Quebec had some success introducing a macaque into an established troop, but it took two years of carefully cultivating relationships. That zoo also had a larger facility with more enclosures than Discovery Wildlife Park has available.
Rowland wants to find Dallas another female macaque for company. She hopes a baby will be born that after a year or so could be introduced to Dallas slowly so that she accepts her. There were no babies born at the zoo this year so it will take a while.
Meanwhile, Rowland still spends time with Dallas, grooming or taking her for rides on the golf cart, a favourite activity. But she has to be careful because Dallas can suddenly lash out and bite.
“I still get to go in with her. I still do the bonding thing.”
One of the hardest things for Rowland to deal with is having to keep Dallas outside in her cage at nights. She once was content to sleep in a kennel inside the zoo centre, but she now refuses. As a snow macaque, the cold isn’t an issue, but it’s still difficult for Rowland.
“It’s hard to leave your child out at night.”
There is a valuable lesson that the public can learn from her experiences, she believes. “It helps highlight for people why primates are illegal (as pets) in Alberta.”
Discovery Wildlife Park is open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week. Besides Dallas and the other macaques, jaguars, tigers, lions, bears, bison, grey wolves, ostriches, deer, a camel and other animals make their home at the zoo just north of Innisfail next to Hwy 2A.
For information go to www.discoverywildlifepark.com