Circus Baboon Who Spent 17 Years Alone Makes His Very First Friend
"The moment Tilin and Tina met, they were inseparable. They ran to each other, embracing and vocalizing."
For 17 years of his life, Tilin was seen as nothing more than a performing animal - and when he wasn't on stage, he lived in solitude.
When the Hamadryas baboon wasn't out in the circus ring, he spent his time locked in a tiny cage in Bolivia. The sad reality he endured being forced to entertain audiences finally came to an end in September 2010, when Tilin was confiscated from the circus and transferred to a sanctuary.
"Tilin was found starved of primate companionship, living next to lions and with a chain around his neck," James Shaw, who founded Lakeview Monkey Sanctuary with his wife, Sharon, told The Dodo. "This [chain] was cut and his new life began."
When Tilin first arrived at Lakeview Monkey Sanctuary, based in England, he was unable to move freely. His legs were weakened due to being deprived of exercise and free movement for years. "We immediately fell in love with the gentle giant," Shaw said. "His character and spirit were still intact."
In the weeks following his arrival, during which he remained in quarantine at the sanctuary, his caretakers read to him, allowing him to learn their voices and grow used to their company (as a result, Tilin is now a huge fan of Jane Austen, Shaw said).
Through a regime of balanced diet and exercise, Tilin slowly but surely regained strength in his legs. His mental health improved as well, and Shaw said he noticed a decrease in certain repetitive behavioral patterns Tilin had developed during his time as a circus animal.
"After years of being confined to a tiny beast wagon, Tilin would spin repeatedly in a corner replicating the behaviors he had used to relieve his past boredom and stress," Shaw said. "Thankfully, after time, this has stopped and he is now calm and relaxed."
But the most harrowing part of Tilin's dark past, by far, was how long the social animal lived without companionship. "When we think how long he was living his solitary life, we think what has happened to us as humans during those 17 years; the places we've been, the people we've met, the births, deaths and loves that we've all experienced," Shaw said. "For Tilin, his days were always the same. This, we wanted to remedy as soon as possible."
Through the luck of a mutual contact, an animal rescue organization called Animal Responsibility Cyprus, the Shaws learned about another baboon, the same species as Tilin, who was living with a German shepherd at a donkey sanctuary.
Her name was Tina, and she was born at a captive breeding facility in Israel before being exported with another monkey to Cyprus, where she became part of the country's exotic pet trade. After she became too big for her owners at the age of 5, they handed her over to the local donkey sanctuary.
She was another baboon who had never known the friendship of her own species - and so the Shaws knew she would be a perfect match for their lonely boy. Tina arrived at the sanctuary in June 2011.
Tina was introduced to Tilin slowly. They were placed next to each other with a wire barrier and were watched carefully for any signs of aggressive behavior. To the Shaws, it soon became pretty obvious that Tina was yearning to be even closer to Tilin, who also liked to keep close to her. It finally came time to properly introduce two the two, face to face.
"The moment Tilin and Tina met, they were inseparable," Shaw said. "They ran to each other, embracing and vocalizing, then Tilin turned to us humans and, in no uncertain terms, threatened us to make us leave them alone. We spent the next few hours hiding behind the trees trying to monitor the situation in case anything happened. Every time Tilin spotted us, he told us off."
Today, Tilin and Tina continue to be a happy "married" couple together, with plans underway to build an even bigger enclosure for them to continue living their peaceful days together.
"Tilin and Tina are just amazing together," Shaw said. "For two animals who never had the chance to be with their own kind, to see them relaxing in the sunshine, grooming each other is very moving ... we feel they truly deserve the best after their past traumas."