Monkey see, monkey do

Some local residents have outlandish pets

By Lesley Jenkins
Star Staff

   Many people can say they have a dog, cat or a fish as a pet, but those who own a Java monkey or African Grey Parrot are few and far between. Two Carter County residents are the proud owners of these time-consuming animals.
   Angela and Troy Ward bought a Java monkey, named Levi, from Wild Animal World over a year ago when Levi was only three weeks old. Angela's fascination with monkeys developed in childhood. After an emotionally difficult time in her life, she decided it was the right time to buy a little, fuzz-covered baby monkey.
   Levi is now 16 months old and acts much like a two-year-old child. "He is equal to about 10 of them (two-year-olds) actually," said Angela.
   Unlike a dog or a cat, Levi cannot be left alone for more than a second without getting into mischief. One of his favorite tricks is to jump on the door handle, turn the knob and run to Grandma's house. When he gets there, he makes a noise at the back door until Angela's mother opens the door. Then he heads straight for the candy jar.
   Levi also enjoys a good swim in the bathtub or even in the dishwater when Angela is washing dishes.
   Since caring for Levi is a "24-hour job," according to Angela, she takes him everywhere except the grocery store because his nimble fingers and toes can grab food before she knows what has happened.
   Angela has even been pulled over by other drivers who see Levi sitting on her shoulder while she drives or sitting on the front dash of the car. Even during the interview with this reporter, people kept approaching her and asking, "Is that monkey real?"
   In the future, Angela plans to take Levi to schools and nursing homes to visit people. On Friday, he was the guest of Christian Holsclaw, Angela's third grade niece, at Hunter Elementary school.
   When he turns three years old, Levi's temperament will calm down more and Angela plans to take him in public crowds more often. Right now, he sits either on her or Christian's shoulder while he settles into Polly Rominger's room of third graders.
   Eventually, he crept around the floor and ate popcorn and baby carrots from the students.
   "He thinks he is human. He doesn't know he is a monkey," Angela said. "He comes and gets me and takes me to where he wants to go. He learns to do things just by watching us. But he doesn't let any other kids play with his toys."
   The Wards have built a special room for Levi, complete with places to climb and play with his toys. They also have three dogs, and Levi rides on one of them like a horse.
   Levi's life span in captivity is approximately 40 years, but, in the wild, his life span decreases to 25 years.
   Levi came to the third grade class during a lesson on the importance of conserving the rain forest. Rominger's class constructed the canopy layer of the rain forest, similar to Levi's natural environment. He appreciated the tissue paper constructing so much that he tore a section down and put it in his mouth.
   Another amazing exotic pet is Harley, an African Grey Parrot, owned by Melanie and Darriel Gregory.
   Harley, 19, can speak using more than 90 different words and phrases. Male parrots can learn up to 20,000 words in a lifetime. If that is not amazing enough, these parrots also imitate the voice of the speaker who teaches them.
   One of Harley's favorite sayings is in Melanie's voice directed to her dogs: "Wanna go outside? Wanna go outside?" The dogs can't tell if the bird is talking or if it's Melanie, so they run to the door every time Harley says it. Of course, Harley thinks this is hilarious, so he belts out a hearty laugh each time he fools the canines.
   He also fools Darriel by calling him using Melanie's voice. If Melanie is in another room, the bird will call for him in her voice, "Darriel?! Darriel?!"
   Harley does this so much that Darriel won't answer when Melanie calls for him. She now has to say, "Mr. Gregory" to get his attention. She said changing the way she calls her husband will have to work until Harley picks up the new saying.
   One of Melanie's uncles, Buck, came to visit once and tried to teach the bird to say "Uncle Buck." The bird refused to learn the new saying until after Uncle Buck had left and later died. On the day he died, Melanie said she heard the bird say, "Uncle Buck."
   The bird also imitates various noises he has heard throughout his life, like the sound of the microwave, Darriel's sneezing, and even bodily noises from the two Great Dane dogs.
   The care required by these unusual pets is far greater than a cat or dog, according to both of these pet owners. The Gregorys and Wards recommend carefully researching types of pets before choosing one.