That's My Boy!

Boris, the dominant male of the chimpanzee group, is one of the zoo's high
profile animals. On a rainy, windswept Bank Holiday in May this year,
American writer Hester Mundis came to visit the animal she regards as her 'son'.

He may be the dominant male in the Chester chimp colony, but to me he'll always be our little fluff-ball, Boris. Oh, he may look far from a fluff-ball to the thousands of visitors who've seen him hurl his impressive 14 stone body at the viewing panels in the chimp house, but that's because they don't see him the way I do through a mother's eyes.

When I first saw him thirty years ago, he was lying on a blanket of shredded newspaper in a kitten carrying case in a not-so-reputable New York pet shop; a helpless, frightened and unbelievably adorable orphan with dark chocolate eyes, light mocha face - soft as doe skin with a powder-white fuzz of a beard and outrageously comic big ears. He looked like a battery operated toy. (I expected to see a 'Made in Japan' tag on his underside.) Suddenly 1 was holding him and he was clutching me and neither of us showed signs of letting go. Common sense didn't enter the picture. He needed a 'mum.' I was already a working mother with an 8 year old son and couldn't see what difference a chimp would make in our lives. Needless to say, it was an eye-opening difference; Boris changed our lives completely and forever.

I even wrote a book about it called, 'No, He's Not a Monkey, He's an Ape and He's My Son.'

We raised him in our Manhattan apartment for nearly three years, learning the hard though often hilarious - way that what is OK behavior in the jungle can be a disaster in an apartment, especially where the closest things to vines are drapes, and pole lamps are easily mistaken for trees. But it wasn't until I discovered that I was expecting another baby that we realized Boris needed - and deserved - a permanent home of his own, with his own. We researched all the zoos in the world (literally!) and Chester Zoo was like an answer to our prayers.

Not only had numerous animal authorities lauded it for its excellence, especially in its treatment of apes, but Mr Mottershead himself assured us that Boris would have a home at Chester for life.

As heart-wrenching a decision as it was to part with our 'little lad,' it has provided him with the best of all possible worlds - and given me quite a few 'grandchimps' to boast about.

It had been 15 years since my last visit to see Boris, but on 5th May this year we were reunited for the third time since his arrival at Chester in 1969. I'm thrilled to say he looked handsomer than ever! I realized that 15 years was a long time between visits and a lot had happened in both our lives, so I'd brought his favorite raisins and marshmallows from the United States to spark memories that could help him remember our connection.

At first it looked as if his only interest was in the food. But as I called out to him, using phrases he once knew, such as 'What do you think of that?' and 'Give me a kiss!' his attention became more focused on me. He hooted several times. I used to know what every one of his grunts and hoots meant when he was a baby, but this time I wasn't sure. (Indeed his voice had grown a lot deeper.) But when he went inside the chimp house, he stared at me through the glass.

For a long moment, we held each other with our eyes - mine, of course, filling with tears - and in his gaze there was a glint of recognition, a perception of something special between us. He might not have remembered me as his 'mum' but he remembered something - and that meant everything to me! As we were walking away, I turned for one last look back. Now, I might have imagined it - or it might have been the tears in my eyes ¬but his arm was outstretched and I could have sworn he blew me a kiss goodbye.



Copyright Hester Mundis. All rights reserved.