While going though blog posts the last couple of weeks, I was struck by what I wrote about Jamie after meeting her for the first time. This was written three years ago, almost six months before she came to Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest. This is what I wrote (link to the original post here):
Jamie is someone who could be referred to as a “character.” She clearly likes attention and demanded a lot of it from me and the other Direct Care Committee members (J.B. and Sarah) who accompanied me on my first visit to Buckshire to meet the chimpanzees. Jamie was the most gregarious of the group and was full of energy. She was clearly pleased to have the rapt attention of new people and really enjoyed having her feet tickled (with newspaper) and playing chase.
The first physical feature that I noticed about Jamie was that her belly had almost no hair. This was obviously due to “over-grooming” – Jamie picks out the hair on her belly and the skin underneath the hair. Over-grooming is considered a form of self-mutilation and can be the result of a stressful, unpredictable life or a sign of utter boredom. Often, this type of behavior gradually disappears when a chimpanzee is moved to a sanctuary which provides a stimulating environment.
A big element that is missing from the day-to-day life of the chimpanzees at Buckshire is the lack of choice. Born into captivity, Jamie’s entire life has been determined by the humans who claimed ownership over her. Her early years were spent as a “performer” in a circus, and then she was passed on to the biomedical research industry (note: we now know she lived with an animal trainer for nine years, but we don’t know how or where she was used during that time). There are very few opportunities to make choices in her daily existence at Buckshire. For Jamie, I believe this will be the biggest benefit to her new life at CSNW. I imagine that once she figures out there are so many things that she can do and ask for, she will probably be quite demanding of the time and energy of the staff at the sanctuary. And they will, no doubt, be elated to indulge her desires.
Jamie did, in fact, completely stop plucking the hair from her belly when she arrived at the sanctuary. She began to do it again this summer after an illness, though it was much, much less severe than before and not very noticeable (nothing like this photo of her bare belly when she arrived). Sometimes this happens with stereotypical behavior – it returns even though the environment has vastly improved. Hair plucking / over-grooming is a really common behavior in captive chimpanzees. We’re keeping an eye on Jamie and making sure she has things to do, which is partly why we started the “enhanced enrichment” in the evenings.
What really struck me about the post, though, was the last two sentences. Did I call that one, or what?? Jamie is by far the most demanding chimpanzee at the sanctuary. A lot of what we do to enrich the lives of the chimps is with Jamie in mind. And I do love to indulge her curiosity and need for stimulation. Just tonight she saw me bringing in some boots to put away and motioned for me. I stopped and lined up all of the boots in front of the caging. She nodded with appreciation in her Jamie way, then indicated that she wanted one, so I gave it to her. Then she wanted another, so I gave her a second boot. In the end, she was satisfied with four boots, but probably more satisfied with the interaction and the process of asking and receiving.