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Sunday, November 30, 2008

100 Makuta Bill 1967

This worn bill is the oldest that I have, from 1967. It was worth one hundred Makutas, or one Zaire. The young President Mobutu started his regime with good intentions and a good reputation. He is seen on the reverse of this money rolling up his sleeves to work with the people.

But Mobutu's money soon began to spiral out of control with inflation. He and his family sucked the riches out of the land and impoverished the population.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Bonobo Lily's Lips

Lily, a bonobo at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, purses her long lips to check her hand. Apes will sometimes self-groom, nibbling for particles of dirt, scabs, salt (from dried sweat) or other imperfections. In wild bonobos, ectoparasites are controlled by this adaptive behavior.

Photo by M. Brickner

Friday, November 28, 2008

Bonobo with Treat

In Kinshasa, the young bonobos that I saw were cared for days or weeks before they were picked up by their owners. This young male clutches a length of sugar cane. He is being coaxed with food -- I am looking down so as to not threaten him. At first, the animals were usually fearful of humans, but within a short time, they would seek affection -- a basic biological drive of young primates.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Early Bird

This post is about Turkeys. I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving holiday tomorrow with friends and family!

Wild turkeys originated in the highlands of Mexico. They have adapted to a wide range of foods such as fruits, nuts, cactus fruits, tender plants, and insects. In agricultural areas, they will consume oats, corn, milo, and wheat. They are known for their beautiful metallic green copper plumage.

Female turkeys sometimes make communal ground nests, although only one hen at a time will incubate the eggs. The males are noted for a “horn” on the forehead, a fleshy wattle under the chin, and coarse bristles on the neck. They have wicked spurs on their feet and they are not afraid to use them.

Turkeys have dramatic courtships. The toms spread their tails and drag one wing along the ground. The stiff pinions make a scraping noise while the bird voices gobble-gobble-gobble to impress the hens, thus the word “gobbler.”

When the New World was colonized, turkeys were taken to Europe, where they were domesticated. Further taming continued in the Americas. Today there are at least a half dozen varieties of turkeys, including the Bronze, Bourbon Red, Black Spanish, Blue Slate, and Royal Palm.

The domestic turkey is genetically distinct from its wild kin. It grows larger and breeds earlier, but it cannot survive in the wild. Hens do not hide their nests, and they ignore the threat of danger. As farmers tell it, “they are such knotheads that if it storms hard, they’ll turn their beaks up in the rain and drown.”

Americans have a special relationship with the turkey. It was reported to have been part of the 1621 Pilgrim’s feast to celebrate a bountiful harvest and peace with Indian neighbors. This wasn't actually mentioned until 22 years later in the “History of the Plymouth Plantation.”

During the American Revolution in the 1770s, the Continental Congress suggested a national day of Thanksgiving. In 1817, New York State made it an annual custom.

In 1863 President Lincoln appointed Thanksgiving as the fourth Thursday of November and declared it a national holiday.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Kinshasa Art Market

From Grains of Golden Sand:

"Ironically, the main market in Kinshasa for live, wild pets faced the American consulate, the USAID offices, the U.S. Information Service Library, and diplomats’ residences. This was a large market where the mostly expatriate clientele shopped for malachite jewelry, sand paintings, cowry-shell Kuba masks, and village-woven raffia tapestries. Anything—from carved chess sets to old Belgian Congo money, to baskets and spears—could be had in this marketplace that ringed the terminus of the Boulevard de Trente Juin. There were potted plants, dried flower arrangements, fruits and vegetables, seasonal “Christmas trees,” carved ivory statues, and even cheap elephant-tail hair bracelets (the “elephant” fiber was actually smoked and darkened palm rib filaments)."

Seen above are paintings done on flour sack cloth, stretched over wooden frames. They are propped up with sticks and rocks. It was a unsettling experience to shop at the art market because the sellers were pushy in the extreme. Buyers were mobbed, followed, and even physically pulled in one direction or another. But there were hidden rules that were useful, if only people knew how to use them. If one started looking at something, the other sellers crowding around were supposed to cease and desist. One had to shout this out, and make the primary seller enforce the "union" rules, so one could bargain in peace.

Another tactic concerned negotiating. It was ill-mannered (truly!) to pay the asking price. One demeaned the seller by denying the challenge and thrill of the give and take of bargaining. A theatrical discussion, with humorous twists, was always appreciated. One of my stock tricks was to counter the asking price (say, 100 Zaires) with a ridiculously absurd low ball (like 3 Zaires). The seller would explode with surprise.

"Oh!" I would reply, pointing up to the sky, "You started up in the clouds, I had to come down to the earth, and dig a hole for my price!" This icebreaker brought a belly laugh, warmed up the watching crowd, and let everybody know that, although I was an expatriate, I was a haggling force to reckon with.

Finally, the best trick of all, was to go first thing in the morning. It was imperative that the first item that was discussed had to be sold, as this would give extra good luck for the rest of the day. Few people knew about this, but the sellers all agreed that they would always give a rock bottom price for the day's first sale.

Photo by: D. Messinger

Monday, November 24, 2008

Giant Otters; One in Tub

These giant otters were rehabilitated for eventual release into the wild by Diane Turk at the Karanambo Ranch in Guyana. They make a sport of playing, splashing, and contorting their bodies into small basins of water that were just big enough to squeeze into. (The otter on the left seems to be going through the motions, anyway).

At night, the otters stayed in their night house, which had been donated by the Philadelphia Zoo. Diane took them to the river every day, to let them explore a natural habitat, as well as to learn how to catch fish. Karanambo is a unique place where tourists can have a close up experience with giant otters.

Photo by J. Fletcher, Times Union

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Skunk Beads

I found these yellow and red beads, strung on a natural fiber necklace in a village, where the owner was eager to exchange them for cash. The red ones are called skunk or crows eye, or eye beads. They were made in Europe in late 1800's and early 1900's and transported by ship for trade in goods and services.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Dr. Kankienza

In 1991, After the French pulled out, the Assistant Director, Dr. Kankienza, was placed in charge of the INRB. Kankienza had a live and let live attitude and he allowed me to stay and work at the institute. With the change in the government under Kabila, Kankienza lost his post.

Two years after leaving the country, I went back in the year 2000 for a visit. I learned that Dr. Kankienza had been "rehabilitated" and was the director of a tuberculosis clinic. I took a taxi (an adventure in itself) and found him in his office. From Grains of Golden Sand:

"Kankienza sat behind an enormous desk piled high with papers. When he saw me, he leaped up and exclaimed, “I never expected to see you here!”

"While we made chit-chat, I noted his overflowing ashtray, an old topic of good-natured bantering between us. He boomed a laugh. “Remember I told you that my physician said to stop smoking or it was going to kill me? Guess who kicked the bucket? Ha! My doctor!”

“Look at me—the picture of health!” He grinned. “Now I’m told that I should lose a little weight. Personally,” he said “I think it is the same bum advice as for cigarettes!”

"Kankienza still had his cherub cheeks and beaming smile, but he seemed somewhat gaunt with a lot less chrome on the chassis than before. Now, with a regular salary, I imagined that his outline would creep back to its former corpulent contour.

“Hey,” I said “I brought my camera. How about a photo?”

"Kankienza was delighted at the suggestion. I posed him next to the orange Fanta soda-pop calendar—the only bright spot on the chalky white-washed bureau wall.

“So what did you do when you weren’t working, Dr. Kankienza?” I asked.

“Hung out at the house.”

"Kankienza harbored not a sliver of remorse from losing more than a year of employment. As he explained, the new government needed experienced administrators; he’d always known that it would be just a matter of time before he was summoned back."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bonobos and Malnutrition

These two Polaroids, taken three weeks apart, show the effects of severe malnutrition on baby bonobos. Taken from their mothers and thus deprived of mother's milk (protein), they develop a kwashiorkor state, with devastating consequences. The body develops edema, or swelling of the tissues. In the upper photo, the animal appears to be fat, and there is puffiness around the eyes. There is anemia, anorexia, and diarrhea.

Almost all of the bonobos that I saw were given plenty of fruit, but no protein, so they had physical signs of kwashiorkor. This disease is difficult to treat because there are serious and often fatal outcomes, from the "refeeding" effect. This is complicated by the fragile psychological state of bonobo infants that have been taken from their mothers and traumatized by their human captors.

The lower photograph shows the emaciated appearance of the bonobo after the edema had resolved. Sadly, she did not survive. In human medicine, there is evidence that
the lack of protein in a diet sufficient in calories, (kwashiorkor), is more harmful than an overall lack of calories, (marasmus). Additionally, although a child can be treated and rehabilitiated, there is often permanent damage to internal organs and a retardation of intellectual development.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Don't Mess with Me Messinger

Here I am, with the World Health Organization Toyota, studying monkeypox disease on the road in remote Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). I am wearing my flying-geese-with-yoke-embroidery dress to present myself to the immigration officials in a regional governmental district. I usually wore flip flops (to ward off fungus), but here I must have kicked them off in favor of being barefoot.

I am also wearing my "just make my day" scowl used to face down Zairian authorities, both fake and authentic, who tried to threaten, intimidate, or coerce me into giving them something. The guns were real and there were plenty of stories of people being jailed or manhandled over trumped up charges. I don't know why, but, over the years, keeping myself out of trouble had become one of my favorite games.

In the above scenario, I gathered up my papers signed by the central government, put on my flip flops, and presented myself to the office of the local immigration official. Rarely would they see me, but they would hold my passport for "approval." I would call their bluff, saying that they had better stamp my papers and deliver them, because our team was already behind on our important health work and we needed to start immediately.

That was the beginning of a dance that was short or long, simple or complex, based on the artfulness of my dance partner, (the official), and his minions. I looked forward to the testing and refining of my techniques and in the Africa art of getting by, I believe that the officials also enjoyed the exercise.

In the end, I always won. One thing about the game was that, although the end goals were serious, everyone recognized that it was a game, and the losers were (usually) good sports.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Awesome Otters

My favorite South American mammal is the giant otter seen on this postcard. Rare in captivity, only the Dallas World Aquarium, the Miami Metro Zoo, the Philadelphia Zoo, and the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens keeps the species in the United States.

From the 50's through the mid-80's, the giant otter was hunted for its hide, and populations had sunk to an estimated few thousand. Today, this otter has rebounded, with most fish healthy water habitats having good numbers of giant otters. The biggest threat to otters today is mercury pollution from mining that enters into the food chain. Mercury laden fish are toxic to otters and humans alike.

The giant otter is extremely social, and occurs in the wild in groups from six to a dozen individuals. Offspring stay with the parents and help rear their siblings, for up to five years. Otter families are extremely territorial, with sharply defined ranges. They are primarily fish eaters, but will consume other things they find, such as anacondas, aquatic birds, and black caimans. Caimans as well as jaguars occasionally take giant otters.

The following website give fascinating information on giant otters, as well as incredible photographs. It discusses the pros and cons of various models of giant otter ecotourism in Peru and Brazil. Six sites where wild otters are readily observed are listed, including the Karanambo Ranch in Guyana:

Monday, November 17, 2008

Bonobo Footprint

Whenever I held a bonobo or chimpanzee at the Kinshasa clinic for treatment, I looked at ways to take measurements as well as identify individuals. One of my first experiments was using watercolor painted on the bottoms of the hands and feet to get prints. I noted also the amount of webbing between the toes, a common finding in bonobos.

The watercolor was too thin to give good results, and the first attempts only gave information on relative size of the extremities.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

WWF Bonobo Stamp

In early 1997, as Zaire was preparing for the takeover of an invading army (yes, we in the capital knew that it was inevitable, months ahead of time. Most of the people were tired of Mobutu's dictatorship, and were warily looking forward to the change under another regime), the World Wildlife Fund issued a bonobo first day cover.

In Zaire (it became the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1997), I lived through three uprisings -- in 1991, 1993, and 1997, not to count the spillover in 1994 in the east, from "ethnic cleansing in Rwanda." Many other nations in central Africa have been drawn into the fracas and millions have died. The people continue to suffer to this day.

The bonobo, as other wildlife in the country, has not fared well under a land in conflict. Gorillas, elephants, rhinos, hippos, primates, and antelopes have been hunted for food by hungry populations, where there are no longer any rules except that of survival. Some conservationists claim that peace and political stability are the key to saving Congolese wild animal populations.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Giant Flying Panda

I have collected zoo patches for over thirty years and "Flying Panda" is the most historically significant and my favorite.

In 1972, China made a gesture of friendship to President Nixon by donating a pair of giant pandas to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Only a handful (a dozen?) patches were made, to commemorate the Air Force flight that brought the two animals to America. From what I understood, the flight crew and the animal caretakers wore this patch.

The patch, in red, white, and blue, shows a panda with wings. The trip took ten days, and was a collaboration between the National Zoo, the Smithsonian, and the US Air Force.

The female, Ling-Ling and the male Hsing-Hsing lived for many years, but breeding was unsuccessful. Now, several AZA (American Association of Zoos and Aquariums) facilities exhibit and breed giant pandas. The animals are all on loan from the Chinese government, and significant funds are generated for research and conservation for wild pandas.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

School's in Session!

This was one of the classrooms at the Omendjadi High School were I taught in 1984 and 85. During a heavy rainstorm in the wet season, one of the mudbrick walls melted away. As a Peace Corps volunteer, I had gone back for a second year of teaching, only to find that the veterinary nurse section had been eliminated by the state.

I never found out how the school resolved the repair of the classroom because I left Omendjadi to continue as a volunteer on monkeypox research. Knowing the poverty of the region, I suspect that classes were held as usual in the room for a long time until they found a solution.

Photo by D. Messinger

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bonobo in a Box

With eyes like marbles, Bonobo Kaleb looks especially mischievous sitting in an enrichment box provided by the keepers of the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. Holding a twig in his mouth, it is as if the highly inventive little bonobo is planning his next escapade.
Photo by D. Bear

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I've Eaten Too Many Mosquitoes!

The magazine Bleu/Blanc ran short stories about animals. The following is a single page that Kizito and I wrote and illustrated:

"Bats are the only mammals that can fly like birds. With 800 different species, this is one fourth of the mammals on the planet. However, they are difficult to see them, because they hide and sleep during the day.

"Bats are divided into two groups: the "large," that eat fruits (frugivores) and the "small" that eat insects (insectivores). The latter find these insects by a sophisticated system called "sonar." The bat has a call of a very high frequency, that causes a return of sound waves from its prey. This system is similar to radar (in aviation, the detection of objects).

"Bats are not yet well studied in our Congolese forests. Here, they compose half of the mammals and we only know some of them. Most of our bats are insectivores, and you can imagine the effect on nocturnal insects!"

The bat shown is thinking in the cartoon bubble, "BURP! I ate so many mosquitoes that I have indigestion! Well, how many did I eat? 100? 200? Oh, la, la, I have a belly-ache!"

Monday, November 10, 2008

Monkeypox Supplies

The porters were placing a metal trunk on a wooden dugout canoe, for crossing a river during flood season. The trunk was so wide that it could not be placed in the bottom of the canoe. It had to be balanced on top of the wooden sides, along with the bamboo carrying pole, and ferried across by two expert paddlers. The woven fiber basket carried a couple of chickens that were taken along, for dinners.

One of the difficulties of doing extended field work was the need to carry large sums of cash to pay the locals. I learned to take along my own insurance: a snake. For the pictured trunk, for instance, I had opened it in front of the village chief, telling him that it was the trip's bank, and then placed a snake inside, thus insuring complete compliance to the "Do not Open" request. The chief had sucked in his breath, gravely thanking me for telling him, so as to avoid any accidental accidents by the villagers.

Photo by D. Messinger

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Growing Up in Zaire

It was difficult to get candid shots of Zairian children because I -- being an outsider -- was the center of attention anywhere I went.

It was a lazy Sunday. Most of the villagers had gone to the rude mud church a dozen doors down, and, that afternoon, the men were relaxing in the shade, while the village women were gossiping while they prepared the evening meal.

Our team had been working in this village for almost two weeks, and the people had gotten used to me and my camera. They had also gotten gifts of Polaroids, which was necessary, if one ever wanted permission to take pictures in the first place (one never took a picture without getting permission).

That Sunday afternoon, I watched out of the corner of my eye as a group of kids lounged on some broken chairs, and watched me as though I was television. I had spent hours taking pictures of the most mundane sort around the encampment -- trees, the thatch roofs of the houses, our work table, my own mosquito bitten feet, termite hunting ants, the chickens, the outhouse, and so on.

I continued to move about, pretending to take pictures, for fear of running out of film. Finally, the children got bored with my activities, and they began to play. At last, I turned about and snapped a few shots. The little boy was giggling in surprise as if it was a joke that I stopped to take his picture.

Photo by: D. Messinger

Friday, November 7, 2008

Meet Bonobo Mabruki

Bonobo Kaleb gets to know adult male Mabruki, who has come to the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens from the Fort Worth Zoo as a breeding recommendation from the bonobo SSP (Species Survival Plan).

Mabruki, 25 years old, was born at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, and then transferred to Texas when he was an adolescent, to live with two other males. As can be seen in the photos, Mabruki is adored by the young Kaleb and they already have a strong bond. Two Buddies, they frequently play and hang out together.

Mabruki is one of two recommended breeding males that will help create a more natural multi-male group. The zoo will be managing these animals in flexible and constantly changing groups.

Photo by: Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Ugliest Chick in the World

This awesome animal is an African ground hornbill chick that was hatched at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. The puffy appearance is due to the air sacks that extend under the skin all over the body.

Photo by: N. Gordon

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Remote Bamboo Grove

The Democratic of the Republic, DRC, (formerly Zaire) is a most beautiful country. As large as the United States east of the Mississippi River, it probably has only a several hundred miles of decent, black-top road. To be fair, in DRC, many "roads" are rivers but lack of fuel is a limiting factor for the movement of boats.

This photograph was taken on a remote track in Equateur, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), in the mid-eighties. The bridge was in excellent shape, which was the reason for my stopping to admire it. Some stalks were a full six inches in diameter at the base, and later, I learned that this bamboo was a giant species. These groves were planted by missionaries; bamboo was used as a building material by the villagers.

Photo by: D. Messinger

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Bonobos at Milwaukee County Zoo

This insert in the AZA (American Zoo and Aquarium Association) national conference booklet, held at the Milwaukee County Zoo, features a young female bonobo named Diedre, who was born in 2003. Diedre, daughter of Kasana (a wild caught animal who transited through several foreign zoos before arriving at the Milwaukee County Zoo) was born underweight.

Although at first, Kosana was not thought to be a competent mother, zoo staff elected to get advice from a lactation consultant to provide an enriched diet to the mother. This served to improve Kosana's milk supply and within weeks, baby Diedre attained a normal size for her age.

The Milwaukee County Zoo is one of the premier bonobo facilities in the world, housing a large and diverse group of animals. The zoo is known for taking on bonobo challenges, such as human reared animals that need extra care to integrate into bonobo society. The animals are managed in "fission/fusion," were the animals are put together in a changing mix and match fashion based on social dynamics.

As well, the zoo supports the SSP (Species Survival Plan) studbook keeper, who manages the breeding of bonobos in AZA facilities. The SSP has a counterpart in Europe, and the two sometimes exchange animals to maximize genetic diversity. The SSP also works on conservation projects in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Advertising for Recycling

This is an example of "social marketing" for publicity that Kizito and I created for the Bic pen company in Kinshasa. It ran on the back page of Bleu/Blanc, our children's mangazine, in 1999. The ad featured a boy named Vata, and was done in the popular comic style much appreciated by Congolese children and adults alike.

The title of the cartoon, Recylage, is French for "recycle." Vata comments on the beauty of nature and then he says, "When I think that my Bic contributes to ecological equilibrium, you might ask how?"

"The plastic is reclycled, that is to say, plastic is reused to make Bic pens. This is not like pencils. When a pencil is used up, it is necessary to cut trees to make other pencils."

Vata continues, walking along a stream, "It is not that I am against pencils.... but I want to affirm that you can use your Bic without danger to this beautiful nature."

The advertisement was notable because it introduced the concept of recycling plastics as well as the idea that pencils cost trees. As simple as it seemed, these cartoon ideas were new ones for the Congolese.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Bonobo Molaso, the Tramp

One of the older bonobos that I cared for had come in with severe health problems. From Grains of Golden Sand:

"The keepers named her Molaso, which brought a wry grin to Lingalaphones* because it means “pretty girl” (or, alternatively, “trollop”, “hussy”, “tramp”). For years, Molaso had difficulty eating because she had lost many teeth from illness. As she matured, I was pleased to note the eruption of a complete adult dentition."

Years later, Molaso was one of the lucky six who found a new home in Holland, at the Apenheul Primate Park. I heard through the grapevine that there was an embarrassing moment in front of some Congolese visitors, when they learned the name: Molaso. Apparently, it was politically incorrect -- My workers had innocently interpreted her very sexy, normal bonobo behavior.

*Lingala is one of four official dialects used in Zaire. It was the military, trading, and most common local tongue in Kinshasa.

Photo by: D. Messinger