Sunday, March 11, 2007

Baboon's art will be auctioned at Zoobilee

art baboonWhen Ana correctly picked UCLA to reach the NCAA basketball tournament Final Four last year, her pick was labeled miraculous by some. For Ana, though, it wasn't that big a deal.

Nearly a year later, the Washington Park Zoo's 14-year-old Hamadryas baboon has given up sports prognostication and taken up another hobby which, zoo officials hope, will help pay for a needed overhaul to the zoo's “Monkey Island.”

“She's an artist now,” Ana's trainer and zoo curator, Jaime LeBlanc, said Monday. “It's not a task for her. It's something she really seems to like.”

Ana began painting earlier this year with a glob of mustard and her hands as a way to keep up what zoo officials call continuing “enrichment.”

Keeping Ana busy and learning new things helps her continue to assimilate to her surroundings, LeBlanc said. It also produces paintings officials hope to auction off at the annual Zoobilee Ball, to be held Saturday, March 17, at the Grand Ballroom at Blue Chip Casino.

LeBlanc said zookeepers use enrichment exercises with many of the zoo's animals to keep them learning and “on their toes.” She said keepers will hide treats in the bottom of buckets or boxes and fill the receptacles with obstacles.

“The tigers have trees. A lot of the animals have pools. Sometimes they have fish,” LeBlanc said. “It's all about keeping them excited and happy and learning about their surroundings.”

LeBlanc said she got the idea to have Ana paint after seeing an elephant do it at the San Diego Zoo. She placed a large piece of cardboard on the floor of Ana's pen and placed a glob of mustard on top.

She said Ana first began to simply rub her hand in the mustard, then wipe it off her hands on the canvas.

“We started putting different colors of non-toxic paint in there and she started painting,” LeBlanc said. “We thought she might do it because she has a habit of scraping rocks on the ground with kind of the same motion.”

Easily distracted by the other baboons at the zoo, Ana prefers to paint by herself, LeBlanc said.

“We let the boys out so she can paint on her own,” LeBlanc said of the male baboons that live with Ana. “When she's more comfortable, maybe people will be able to watch her paint. But for now she's still young; she's got time to get more comfortable.”

Story here.

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