In the process of my research, I've come across some memorable family photographs. Here's one that my cousin George shared with me. His father's name is George Gayle Bayne, the youngest brother of my grandfather Cleve Joy Bayne (also in this picture). And that guy wearing the baseball cap and puffing on a ciggy...that's Sparky!
Your eyes don't deceive you. That's Sparky the chimpanzee, and from what my cousin tells me, he's got the spirit (and manners) of Clyde the orangutan. He stayed in Big Three Acre Zoo Farm. It was located in Houston at 1711 Connorvale Rd, and the business was owned and operated by David Westley Bayne (one of the older brothers of George and Cleve).
The zoo was sort of a shelter for all sorts of animals that one wouldn't expect to find in Texas. There were exotic parrots, a spider monkey, a panther, tigers, among other creatures that would excite any child to see (from of distance, of course). These animals were often rescued when abandoned by people who realized they were not exactly the sorts of pets you could keep long term. Also, Big Three Acre Zoo Farm offered boarding for some of the animals if their owners didn't have a place to keep them safely.
George and his family lived in Boston at the time. During the mid 1980s, young George made a couple summer trips to Houston to spend time with Uncle David. He says that Sparky was at times friendly and at other times prone to erratic behavior. He lived in his cage and was provided with an old black and white TV, which he watched. He ate his meals with a fork and his ice cream with a spoon, and to top it off, he was given a big plastic cup to drink some Boone's Farm Wine. You could also see Sparky with a can of Miller Lite in his hands from time to time.
Sparky seemed very capable of understanding English when spoken to. George relates the following experience while staying there one summer:
On one of my stays at Uncle Dave’s, I was wandering around the zoo by myself. I was walking between Sparky’s cage & a jaguar. I stayed closer to the jaguar’s cage because I’d been warned to stay clear of Sparky because he could potentially grab me. I had an apple with me & asked him if he wanted it. I told him to stick his hand out & he did. I told him that I’m going to count to three & I’ll drop it in his hand. He patiently waited with his hand extended. “Ok, ready? One, two...” as soon as I got to three I let the apple drop. As the apple fell, his hand came up so fast in an attempt to grab my hand it startled me. He didn’t get me, but as I pulled back, I was right next to the Jaguar cage. The jaguar clawed my shirt & nicked my side (enough to draw blood). It took me a minute to free my shirt from the claws of the jaguar. I immediately started swearing at Sparky. He grabbed the bars of his cage with both hands & got very aggressive pulling on the bars and screaming “Oooh oooh, ahh ahh”. Needless to say, I didn’t get that close to him again.
Although I lived in Houston, I don't recall ever paying a visit to this zoo. It seems like it would have been a memorable experience, bites or no bites. Well, I for one am glad I got to hear the stories behind these photographs and share them with you. I'll leave you with one more for the road...
*As of the date of this article, an exotic pet supply store by the name of S&S Exotic Animals, Inc. has been operating their business on this same property since 1996.