The Kingdom of Alejandra
It is difficult to understand how the howler monkeys, very common in our Atlantic Forest, reach so far in the south, in the hills of Cordoba, Argentina. But the Primate Center, located just over 100 km from the city of Cordoba, is home for 11 groups of howler monkeys Alouatta caraya, which live freely. In total there are 140 monkeys, known in the country as aulladores.
That is the "Kingdom of Alejandra Juarez", a history professor who joined, 30 years ago, in a zoo in Cordoba to make her thesis on the history of it, as an academic piece, and stayed there for 20 years, becoming an observer and handler of a wide range of animals that went there - and many of them did not resist.
Alejandra was involved with lions, tigers, cougars and, of course, with chimpanzees. The cats caused her to cry several times and afflicted his heart, as she was not able to pluck them out of that macabre place and bring them to her kingdom.
She took the cats out of the hands of poachers and circuses, took them to the zoo, where she spent over 12 hours a day to save them from a predictable death, typical situation of a wild animal treated badly in captivity.
When the zoo was closed to the public at the end of the day and employees left, Alejandra used to stay to “party” with the animal, who loved her. She played with the lions, cougars, with all the tigers and monkeys. She had some fearful moments and has some scars in her body. But this could be expected when you are playing with three adult tigers, or a lioness, who loved her.
Silvio was a lovely chimpanzee, who lived for years in the zoo. She developed an extraordinary friendship with him, who spent several hours a day playing and making faces. Silvio had a companion, who, naturally, would be jealous of the relationship of a woman with her partner. One day she escaped, the zoo was closed and all the handlers surrounded her cage to try to catch her, and nobody dared to try to catch her. In spite of the jealousy, Alejandra climbed on the roof of the cage where she was, sat beside her and was embraced unexpectedly. With Silvio’s help, who was anxious to the runaway to be finished, Alejandra convinced her to come down and get back in the enclosure.
Alejandra told us all these stories when she visited GAP Sanctuary of Sorocaba, where she found out a decent way to treat chimpanzees like Silvio.
Alejandra left the zoo after 20 years of work. The zoo belonged to the Government and later on was privatized, but the suffering caused to the animals continued, as well as in the other 14 zoos that exist in Argentina.
One day a caraya was given to her and she was about to leave to the fields (as she calls life outside the cities). She was not able to take the lion and the tiger, because they were poisoned at the zoo. But she took the caraya, and this was the beginning of a project that should be a pride to all who defend the freedom of life of all animals (www.proyectocaraya.com.ar).
Alejandra has two daughters, two girls of 17 and 15 years-old, who live with her and also help to manage Caraya Project. The project recently received 14 capuchin monkeys rescued from a medical experiment laboratory that was closed.
Alejandra never forgot Silvio, his companion of years at the zoo, with whom she talked everyday in the evening. When the GAP Spain knew her and introduced her to us, we immediately thought that she would be the ideal person to represent us in Argentina, a country with it Brazil share so many things in commom – and where our primates go to one side to another, looking for a peaceful place to be.
Alejandra is getting to know our reality, our history and our struggles in the defense of Great Apes here and all over the world. Our thoughts are fused into one. We know that chimpanzees are almost human. But, as long as they can not talk, are considered to be objects, and are abused, mistreated and criminally exploited.
She already had the chance to feel how a baby chimpanzee, like Suzi, is practically a human child, who is developing and becoming more secured. She sat in front of Guga and Emilio, and talked with them. Skype transmitted the images to his colleagues in his kingdom of Cordoba, who found hard to believe what she was doing here. She experienced the feeling of seeing Vitor furious in the first minute, a loving her later on. She also saw how Jimmy is turning into a chimpanzee who is actually interacting with Samantha and her two daughters, Sofia and Sara, and that someday he will be their adoptive father.
She foresaw the challenge that awaits her on her return to the kingdom, in the beautiful mountains of Cordoba, where she will denounce the atrocities committed against the great apes in their homeland.
The Kingdom of Alejandra is very big, 360 hectares. You have to walk one hour to see the last group of caraya that is free, which is worthy to be done, as long as the freedom they enjoy is our dream to great primates – although it seems to be a utopia.
Alejandra Juarez is a knight for animal rights, like all of us dedicated to this cause in the end of our lives. And she is also a champion, as long she dares to get the animals from the hell of captivity and offer them freedom. Welcome to our struggle!