Posts Tagged With: animals

Radio Story of Hide ‘N Seek

Photo By Gail Fisher, LA Tiimes

Just got back from a month out on the road. A follower on my blog, Patrick Early, sent me a link to the radio story version of “Hide ‘N Seek” that I did for NPR back in the early 80’s. I had forgotten I did this but here is a link: https://beta.prx.org/stories/11658/details

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The Pump Station

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It was going to be a night patrol but at least a routine one. Several of the pumps in our water system had been sabotaged over the last several days. We knew it was a setup for any patrol who went out to check on them. But it had to be done and it was best done at night. I hated night patrols especially in the rain.

Our mission was to check every pump along a steep ridge that climbed up above the jungle canopy. We left the “A” camp in the twilight with little ceremony. We had a job to do and it had to be done before dawn.

We always followed the same routine. I had the men check their weapons and ammo. I made sure personally that all gear was secured so as not to make any rattles in the night. We moved out as quietly as ghosts.

The first part of the hike was steep and slippery as it had rained. The jungle was lank and humid. Steam rose from the undergrowth making it hard to pick a way up the ridge. Moving stealthily with increased effort so we took a break among a pile of rocks when we finally cleared the trees. Regrouping, I briefed the men on how important it was to reach the stations undetected as it was a perfect scenario for an ambush.

A pale moon lit our way as we neared the first pump station. It had been situated so it’s tin roof was just below the ridgeline. The small building was covered with corrugated metal and had a narrow door, plenty big enough for our Vietnamese interpreter but just barely for me. I took a flashlight from my radioman with the idea of using it when I closed the door behind me so as not to draw sniper fire. A patrol had been ambushed a few nights before when checking another damaged pump station just like this one.

I had my men dig-in, setting up a tight perimeter around the small, tin shed. I felt uneasy as this first station was the lowest and we did not have the high ground. Further, I noticed several holes in the metal which might let light out when I closed the door and used the flashlight to the check the pipes and gauges. But the mission had to be done and I had decided to set an example and do it myself.

I nodded to the interrupter to open the door. I had to squeeze into the tight opening. My canteen caught on the door frame. I squirmed free with the help of the shutting door pushing me in.

The inside of the shed was pitch black. My eyes had grown accustomed to the pale light of moon outside but in was black in this little space. I was regretting my decision that found me alone in this tight, dark place.

I counted several heart beats until my nerves settled and turned my flashlight on. I was blinded at first but as my eyes adjusted I froze as I found myself eye level with a cobra. It swayed, fully hooded at the back of the shed behind a tangle of pipes. It hissed, spitting venom on the front of my flack vest.

I drew my 1911 service sidearm and emptied my magazine. Several pipes burst, spraying water in all directions but the cobra still performed a macabre sort of dance. I heard my men open fire into the darkness thinking we were under attack. The door flew open and one of my men pushed me out of the way. Seeing the cobra, he unloaded his M-16. More water sprayed but the cobra still swayed making slow sideways strikes.

It was chaos. My men fired into the darkness at nothing in particular and the pump station sprayed water in every direction; it’s walls pitted with bullet holes and the door flung off its hinges. I was just reloading when our interpreter stepped forward. Shaking his head, he picked up a stick and dispatched the snake with three dull thumps.

We moved out of the area as quickly as possible as we had broadcasted our position to every unfriendly from Phu Bai to Hanoi. My interpreter muttered to himself as we made our way back to our base shaking his head often.

I could not help but think of the sharp contrast between our efforts that night, backed by our so called advanced technology, and the interpreter’s simple common sense and the use of that stick. Looking back, it was prophetic when thinking of the outcome of the war.

You can probably guess how I wrote my report.

 

 

 

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The Background Story of Almost Human

This short collection of stories is some of the events in my life, as a wild animal trainer, that inspired my novel, Almost Human. I’ve entitled this collection, Animal Days. I hope you enjoy my humble effort. Just click on the title above for a free copy. More Than Human the sequel will be released soon.

Oliver and Ken

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Almost Human, Second Edition, is coming soon!

eBook_AlmostHuman

The second edition of Almost Human is coming soon! AIA Publishing reedited and rebranded it with a new cover! It is scheduled for release in mid-June, 2018. I’m very excited with my new publisher and contract. More Than Human, the sequel, will follow!

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Oliver

 

Oliver and Ken

Oliver and Ken Decroo, 1982, Wild Animal Training Center

 

I met Oliver in 1982. He was full grown male chimpanzee that you took very seriously. He had been billed as a humanzee (half-human and half-Chimp) but I always believed him to be a chimp. He was unusual just the same. He walked bipedally most of the time. While chimps will walk upright some of the time, I had never known one to do it naturally and all of the time. Other chimps feared him and most trainers chose not to work him but for whatever reason, he and I had a special bond.

The photo above is Oliver doing what he loved the most, running with me out of his cage. Oliver and the mystery surrounding his past inspired me to write, Almost Human. I am working on the sequel, More Than Human, were Oliver still plays a larger than life role.

 

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He No Longer Lives in Brazil

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The flight from LAX to Rio de Janeiro (GIG) had been a long one but while tired I was excited to be at last joining the movie company to film on location. I had been hired to train Jaguars and was the only America working for the British film. When I met Gabriel at customs, I soon discovered that I had stepped into a surreal world and time. He stared right through me wearing a sweat-stained t-shirt that read “Kill Them All and Let God Sort them Out.” I could just make out a faded French Foreign Legion logo on a worn canvas bag slung over his shoulder.

In a thick Portuguese accent, he said in rehearsed English, “Welcome to Brazil,” and commenced to orchestrate us through customs. This was the tone that the shooting of this movie would take for the better part of a year. We filmed in fifty-five different locations that year which took us from the coast to deep in the jungles of the Amazon. We were on a golden voyage, a real old school adventure and it was 1984. Each day took us further from what we knew to a world of wild animals, jungle darkness, danger, Voodoo and real outlaws. We were a long way from home.

Continue reading

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Peacock Hunting

peacock_bird_201860I have been working diligently on the sequel to Almost Human.

Finally, I’m close to finishing More Than Human. Over the last six months, personal matters side-tracked my progress—well sort of. So, I’ve set a goal of a thousand words a day no matter what. I’m pleased to say it is working. I am several weeks into this endeavor.

Writers, write. Continue reading

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On Being Smarter

 

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Ken Decroo and Congo, African Elephant, Photo by Gale Cooper, 1981

 

Concerning the training of wild animals, I often speak on the importance of being smarter than the animal you’re training. When asked to elaborate on this concept, I immediately think of Congo, an elephant I worked many years ago.

While all elephants are smart, Congo was a genius. He was a big African male that stood almost twice as tall as my six feet.  At the time I met him, he lived at an animal safari park in California. I first met him when I was asked to work him for a photo shoot promoting the book, Animal People by Gail Cooper. I was featured in one of the chapters and Gail Cooper wanted a dramatic photograph.  Continue reading

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Sally’s Cafe and Bookstore – New on the shelves – Almost Human by Kenneth L. Decroo

What happens when the line between ape and man is blurred?

Cover Illustration by Casey Whitesell

I’m honored and humbled. Almost Human has been selected for the bookstore in Sally G. Cronin’s great blog, Smorgasbord – Variety is the Spice of Life!. Thanks so much, Sally, for your support.

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Hide-N-Seek

Photo By Gail Fisher, LA Tiimes

Ken Decroo and Moja, 1978

There are certain events in our lives that, at the time, we may or may not realize how important or how defining they are. One such event happened with my first meeting with a chimpanzee named Dar.

I was being interviewed as the linguistic research assistant on a very special project that was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and located at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR). This project was known as the Washoe Project and focused on teaching American Sign Language (ASL) to chimpanzees to determine if they were intelligent enough to possess language. I have to say, that on the flight up to interview, I was skeptical but as I was in need a position, I was willing to give it a chance.

Upon arrival, the interview began as expected but only at the beginning. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I was met at the airport and taken to the research compound south of town. The facility was a converted 1950 style dude ranch. It consisted of usual the array of research scientists, graduate students and student assistants scurrying around with clipboards in hand. But that was where the normalcy ended. I was ushered into a large, converted barn where researchers were exercising several chimpanzees of very ages and sizes. I say exercising but it looked more like wrestling and playing. The chimps were having a grand time swinging from ropes and tumbling in piles of hay. The place echoed with hoots and laughter.

After a while, I was escorted to large two-story ranch house that had been remodeled into the headquarters of the project. In a large reception area, I met the senior researchers, Drs. Alan and Beatrix Gardner. The interview went well and I was offered the job. I asked for a little time to decide which they understood and were agreeable to extend. This position would require me to relocate, leave my university to use my sociolinguistic skills in a very different and unusual context. I was encouraged to tour the compound on my own while I was deciding. In other words, they gave me free reign of the place.

I took a walk towards an apple orchard behind the main buildings. It was getting late as the interview had taken most of the day. There was a Fall chill in the air and all was quiet which was a marked contrast to all the bustling activity of the day.

As I made my way down a graveled lane between two buildings, the silence was broken by a series of hoots above me. To my surprise, I looked up to a chimp ambling down the roof towards me. The chimp swung effortlessly off the eves and dropped next to me. Startled, I stared into two deep, chestnut eyes. There was an intelligence in those eyes that was mesmerizing. Dar was a young adolescent with a broad white face accentuating two big floppy ears.

Before I could say or do anything, he signed, “Who You?”

Shocked, I gave my ASL name sign and asked, “Name?”

The chimp hooted and replied touching one of his big floppy ears. I later learned that was his name sign for “Dar”.

Dar panted and bounce up and down  hardly containing himself and signed, “You, me, play, hide-n-seek?”

I looked around unsure that this was really happening. I was actually communicating with a species other than my own. I did what any researcher would have done and signed, “Who, it?”

Dar loudly hooted making a classic chimp, open play-face, and answered, “You, chase—me hide.” He bounded back on the roof and disappeared over the ridge.

This interchange only lasted a few seconds but it defined the direction of my life to this very day. I was, for the next several years, to spend every waking hour in the company of chimpanzees. In my novel, Almost Human, I have attempted to capture what that world looks like.

The vehicle of American Sign Language, allowed me to perceive the world through the wise eyes of a different species and I grew to be a better person as a result.

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