Thursday, March 04, 2004

Jasmine, the killer microcebus.

Jasmine was no bigger than a hamster. She had chocolate brown orbs for eyes with huge black pupils, a petite mousy nose, and thin perky little ears that looked like shiny paper. But Jasmine was no mouse or hamster, she was a primate. (Species Microcebus Murinus to be exact; the gray mouse lemur.)

She was a “prosimian” primate, which meant she looked nothing like the monkeys and gorillas on the other side of the taxonomy tree. Sure, she had fingernails instead of claws, and tiny opposable thumbs on her tiny hands, but for all intensive purposes she looked like a run-of-the-mill mouse. A blood craving, psycho-mutant mouse from hell, that is. At least that’s how I viewed her after I’d been painfully indoctrinated as her caretaker.

I encountered Jasmine’s wrath shortly after I started my job as a Primate Technician. (See "Zookeeper for a while, Cynic for life” if you’re giggling at my job title. No, we didn’t use wrenches on monkeys!!) As a biology major fresh out of college, I had stars in my eyes. How noble I was, nurturing endangered species at this wonderful facility. Noble my tuckus. A firm chomp on the finger was my reward the first time I presented Jasmine with her lovingly prepared lunch of chopped fruit and monkey chow. (Yes, Purina Monkey Chow. No fooling.) So began my ill-matched relationship with Jasmine; she terrorized my days, while my ragged fingers satisfied her lust for dominion.

I would actually tremble when the time would come to open her cage door. She’d freeze in the optimal ready position, waiting to grab some flesh. Then she would either get down to the business of eating her food, or she’d bounce Matrix-style off the food dish and into my face. Passers-by to the window weren’t likely to see Jasmine—they were likely to see me thrashing and flailing about the room in my St. Vitus’ dance. If you think catching grasshoppers is a challenge, try shortstopping a bouncing furry vampire with opposable thumbs.

Jasmine’s reign of terror was finally rear-ended by a blessed event; the birth of her twin daughters, Nutmeg and Cinnamon. She took to the role of motherhood right away, sitting protectively in the nest tube with her precious charges. I wasn’t prepared for my complacent reception at feeding time; where were the teeth? Where was the sound and fury? Alas, an end to an era had come, and Jasmine the terrible was no more. From then on, I didn’t have to wear a garden glove to open her cage door. My blood pressure didn’t soar to skin prickling heights when I needed to clean her cage. It was a relief, and at the same time a letdown. I didn’t get to affect an air of superiority when I entrusted her care to a junior technician later in the year. I couldn’t say, “look out for that one” or, “I’ve got a few tips and tricks I’ll need to show you.” Jasmine left my care without ceremony or goodbyes, but maybe it was better that way. The bonds of fingers bitten and fur flying are strictly between Jasmine and me.