This post is about some changes I’ve noticed since the Cle Elum Seven have arrived at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest. I know it’s difficult to see the changes in people when you’re with them everyday. You tend to forget past behaviors and it is as though the person has always been as they are now. It’s a strange phenomenon, really.
So, I’m trying to think back to when the chimpanzees first arrived and I’m realizing just how much things have changed, both on an individual and a group level. Below are a couple of examples.
One thing that stands out is what ‘good behavior’ they were all on – no spitting of water, no banging, no trying to poke when we served them food, no staying out during meal times. I think they may have been in some sort of a trance, or it took a while before they felt that they were ‘at home’ and could test the waters a bit. Now there is quite a bit of spitting of water, especially by Burrito while we’re operating the pneumatic doors, and by Jamie when she’s testing someone new, and even by Jody when she thinks a person has slighted her or when she is following suit along with the other chimps. It’s weird, but I have to say that it is refreshing – not just the getting showered by cool mouth-fulls of water on a hot day, but by the fact that they have declared the sanctuary their home and they feel comfortable enough to show it. Why shouldn’t they spit water on us humans, after all?
And why shouldn’t they make their own decisions rather than follow our routine every day? Chimpanzees are smart. It took them a few days, if that, to figure out our routine of serving meals in the front rooms at specific times and cleaning empty areas when they are closed off. So, when they do not come in for meals, it is clearly now a choice they are making. Sometimes someone would rather skip a meal and lounge in bed (Negra) or have the playroom all to herself (Annie), while other chimps prioritize food over all other activity (Burrito). When the chimps decide to mess with our routine, we merely shift it for the day.
When breakfast is over and the playroom and outside are clean, our normal routine is to close off the front rooms so that we can clean them. My favorite, thus far, blatant messing of our routine occurred about a week after the outdoor area was complete. I had finished serving breakfast and helping to clean the playroom and outside. Keith had put in some extra straw into the outdoor enclosure. I opened a door to let the chimpanzees back out into the playroom and outside, and folks slowly filed out. Jody immediately went outside, grabbed a huge armful of fresh straw, and marched right into room four, making a nest on the bench in front of the windows. We may have thought that straw belonged outside, but that morning she thought differently, and she was clearly not moving. So, I closed off room four as I cleaned the other three front rooms. She watched me clean for a bit, she went up and worked on her straw and blanket bed and rolled around on her back in her nest, and just enjoyed her time in her private suite. When I was done with the other three rooms, she was ready to go back out and left as soon as I opened the door, heading directly outside to make a new nest in the direct sunlight. And I happily cleaned up the straw she had left behind.
Now that we have the outdoor area, we humans are also messing with the normal routine and sometimes serving meals outside through the caging or setting up forages so the chimpanzees can come out and find their own food. It’s good to have variety within a routine, and doing something a little different often creates a lot of excitement. That is another thing I’ve noticed – the level of excitement over novel things has increased greatly. Now, when they see us setting up forages – hiding food under boxes and sprinkling nuts and seeds in the straw, they begin to pant-hoot. In the beginning, when the chimpanzees first arrived, there was an eerie lack of noise – nothing seemed to phase them one way or another. Now they know when something is exciting and they express it in a loud, boisterous, chimpanzee way. If I didn’t need money to pay the rent, I would work for pant-hoots and food grunts in a heartbeat.