My name is Sophie Miller, and I am a zookeeper from Australia—also known as “Oz”!

 

I work mainly with a variety of primates, but gibbons have a special place in my heart. I have a bumper sticker that reads “half woman, half gibbon,” and it definitely suits me! My fellow Australian primate keepers (Belinda Burns and Kelly Lambe) and I enjoyed a wonderful 10 days at IPPL’s headquarters gibbon sanctuary in South Carolina in October.

After five long flights and around 30 hours of travelling I arrived on site and rested my very jet-lagged body. I was awakened the next morning to the amazing sounds of 33 gibbons calling at once. What a greeting!

I was welcomed first by the “office manager,” Palu-Palu, who did his “cabbage patch” dance for me, and then by handsome Gibby, who stuck his head out of his run to suss out the new person and make sure I was OK. I work with fewer than 10 gibbons, so seeing 33 gibbons in one place was an amazing sight.

Igor is my “adopted” gibbon son, so I was keen to meet him first up. I was amazed how good he looked and acted for an “old man” in his fifties. I bought him some special dried apricots, which were shared with the other gibbons, too. He sings a lot, loves his back scratches, and adores being groomed with a brush: he goes into a “bliss coma”! I felt privileged he let me do this for him. He loves his movies, too, especially animated ones, so I managed to buy him quite a few DVDs when I was there to see him through the winter months.

But all the gibbons have very different personalities. Here are a few other tidbits about some of the other gibbons at IPPL:

Tong: She is IPPL’s only concolor gibbon, and she’s the friendliest gibbon at the sanctuary. She loves being groomed and (if you’re lucky) grooming her human friends in return.

Michael: He is a sweet, gentle male gibbon who will hopefully pair with Cathy soon, and the two of them will then be able to make sweet music together.

Chloe and Blackie: Chloe does not like blondes, so being near her was always “interesting” for me; she just wanted to chase me away. Chloe’s mate is an old man but still so full of life; he loves playing “chasey” with Snow, the Great Pyrenees dog at IPPL.

Gibby: He is the most handsome male, but he had a horrible background of being used in “locomotion” experiments. He adores women, so he was in his element while I was there, with mostly female caregivers on site.

Courtney and Whoop-Whoop: Courtney is full of spunk and loves attention. She has this crazy rolling-on-the-floor routine she does and loves playing chase games, too. Whoop-Whoop is under Courtney’s control; he loves nothing more than watching TV and cuddling up to his favorite square of blanket.

Peppy: This elderly gentleman is a thumb-sucker. He is always friendly and loves his scratches, too.

Scrappy: He has a crazy face, so his name suits. He does not like everybody, but he liked me, so I felt privileged. I enjoyed many happy moments hanging with “Scraps,” also now known by me as “Scrappy-Dappy-Doooooooooooooo”!

During my stay I was able to help sort through some historical records of the gibbons: it always fascinates me to see where they have come from and see how good some of the gibbons look for their age. But I spent most of my time helping feed the gibbons and coming up with some enrichment ideas. As Halloween was approaching, we gave the gibbons jack-o-lanterns made of plastic with some yummy treats inside. They all seemed to enjoy them, as it was something different and unusual-looking compared to their normal feeding buckets.

We also gave the gibbons some cloth bags made of old bed-sheet fabric. We placed treats such as popcorn and dried fruit inside, and then we knotted the cloth bags up so the gibbons had to work to get the goodies out. These treat bags were also a huge success with all the gibbons.

I had an amazing time at IPPL and hope to visit again soon. IPPL does great work worldwide for primates, and seeing the sanctuary was fantastic. It is a truly wonderful location—a slice of heaven in Summerville, South Carolina. The gibbons have terrific views of the surrounding landscape and sing their praises for where they now live at their “forever home.”

A huge “thank you” to Shirley for her hospitality and all the amazing staff there, including Meg, Donetta, Kelly, Lynn, Hardy, Sharon, Ruthann, and Barbara.

Gibbon whoops to all,

Sophie

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