When Your Job Makes You A Monkey’s Mom

By Maria Tabraue, ZWF Miami Co-President & Director

Every year around this time as Mother’s Day approaches, I can’t help but feel the sensation of maternal gratification welling up inside me. Sure, I know I can count on calls and cards from my homo-sapiens offspring—and that’s always wonderful. But equally rewarding is the love I get to share year round with my intra-species children. 

See, as the co-founder and director of the Zoological Wildlife Foundation in Miami, I have over the years enjoyed the privilege of playing surrogate mommy to literally hundreds of wonderful critter-kids.

I remember my first adopted fur-baby. He was a white-faced Capuchin monkey named Puchito. Ever since I was a child I’ve held a special place in my heart for primates and apes. They are so remarkably similar to us, capable of the same breadth and depth of familial feeling, and if you’ve ever spent time with one of these beautiful creatures you know how closely their emotions and mannerisms resemble our own.

Later in my career, a pair of Brazilian Tufted capuchins named Ritchie and Delilah came under my care, and we became inseparable. Caring for them made me feel like a new mom with newborns babies all over again. When those babies, who looked to me for everything during their formative years, grew to have kids of their own, I was doubly proud, my heart filled to the brim with love.

I can confidently say the love is mutual. I feel the palpable affection, the appreciation that they communicate to me every day. It’s more than simply “here comes the lady who feeds us.” It is profound. It is real.

It isn’t all roses, either. Like any parental relationship, there can be discord. Let’s not fool ourselves—these are wild animals living in a zoological setting. They are not domesticated. (Although I recall several specific times when the same could be said about my human children, lest we judge harshly.) Just as in raising a human child (I have two of my own), self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy are ever present. I always feel as though I’m not around enough, that I’m missing important moments in their lives. I worry that I’m making mistakes in how I raise them to be productive members of the animal kingdom. I thought the whole work/life balance part of motherhood would dissipate when my kids became adults—instead I obtained a new set of them!

It’s important to measure these creeping doubts against our mission here at ZWF: Each of these animals has its own purpose in nature, and they each must be loved and cared for in their own way. Like us, they are each unique. They must be treated as such.

So, this Mother’s Day, if you are fortunate enough to have some furry friends in your life who would call you “momma” if only they could talk, make sure they know how you feel.

After all, a mother’s love knows no species.

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