Sick of His Ménagerie À Trois, Gerald Yoakum's Neighbors Want His House to Become Sans Simian
08/22/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT
The residents of First Colony, Texas, are proud of their manicured bedroom community in the Houston suburbs. It has a golf course, swimming pools, man-made lakes and rivers. Some of the homes cost as much as $1 million, and First Colony is a real community, a great place to raise children, human children, that is.
Gerald Yoakum, 26, once thought First Colony would be a great place to raise his furry, fanged children, Joshua and Jason, which is why he moved there in 1986. His neighbors, though, want Yoakum to move to some other fine community—and take his children with him. The problem, as the neighbors see it, is that the Yoakum boys smell bad and have disgusting grooming habits. Josh and Jason, the neighbors say, scamper along the tops of fences. Sometimes, they say, the boys can be seen perched on the roof, glaring at passersby and baring their teeth.
And those teeth, with their upper and lower matching sets of truly formidable fangs, are apt to make the neighbors nervous. The fact of the matter is that Joshua and Jason are olive baboons, native to West Africa and seldom seen in suburban America. Now the neighbors are chasing the mixed-species Yoakum family out of town. When they go, two other residents of the house—William Hall, 23, a Michael Jackson impersonator, and Yoakum's divorced father, James—will go with them.
Yoakum, an exotic dancer who shimmies for the Ding-a-Ling Monkey-shines, a strip-o-gram service, under the stage name Magnum, thinks the whole situation is just terrible. "The boys," as he insists on calling his baboons, are family. In fact, Yoakum got them because he couldn't have a more traditional kind of family. "My girlfriend and I were trying to have a baby," he says. "When nothing happened, I went to the doctor and was told I'd never be able to have children."
Many people in this situation opt to adopt. So did Yoakum—he went to the Big Three Acre Farm, a private zoo, to see what kind of surrogate children were available. At the zoo, he spotted a baby baboon, which he bought for $1,000. "I named him Joshua James—Joshua because that's a good biblical name and James for my father," he says. At the time Yoakum was living in Houston, which has a law against the possession of exotic beasts like baboons, so he moved—to First Colony, where he paid $49,500 for his modest, three-bedroom brick house.
At first, no one in First Colony seemed to mind. Yoakum devoted himself to being a good baboon daddy. "Joshua had been abused by his previous owner, so for the whole first year I spent a lot of time holding him close to me so he could learn to trust me," Yoakum says. He petted Joshua, and, indeed, he Pampered him, since baboons do not take to housebreaking.
One day a keeper at the zoo told Yoakum that he had another baby baboon in need of a home. That was how Jason Zachary joined the Yoakum household. Yoakum built a cage house for the boys to play in. He dressed them up, and he took them on outings. They played ball and hung out together in the backyard hot tub. "I generally spend five or six hours a day with them," says Yoakum. "I read to them, or sometimes I just sit and talk to them." The baboons and their father became familiar figures at such local events as ice-cream parlor openings.
Then last fall something went sour between First Colony and the Yoakum ménage. A group of residents complained to the county Animal Control Division about odor and noise. Yoakum thinks the whole hullabaloo was related to property values. Indeed, Jeannine Haller, one of the neighbors, told a Houston paper, "Who would want to buy a house next door to a baboon?"
Alerted by the county's Animal Control Division, District Attorney Larry Wagenbach intervened in the case. "I talked to several wild-animal experts," he says, "and they all said there was no doubt that baboons could be vicious. If we don't do something about them and one of them hurts somebody, then what happens?" David Ruhter, curator of mammals at the Houston Zoo and one of the experts Wagenbach consulted, says, "There are reported incidents in Africa where baboons have killed children."
Last month, just before a scheduled court hearing, Yoakum signed an agreement that gives him 120 days to find a new place to live. In the meantime, the baboons will be kept locked in their cage or in the house.
Right now, Yoakum is planning to move to a rented country house 40 miles from Houston, Which goes to prove, he says, that there is in this great land of ours a place where a male exotic dancer known as Magnum, the dancer's father, a Michael Jackson impersonator and two rambunctious baboons can make a home sweet home.
—By Michael Neill, with Anne Maier in First Colony