Happy 3rd anniversary to the Cle Elum Seven and happy birthday to Negra!
Before we post about the party that’s happening this evening for the chimps (we know you’re looking forward to party photos!), we wanted to share with you, from our perspective as staff members, what we’ve learned from the Cle Elum Seven chimpanzees and Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest these past years. We wrote these independently, but you might pick up on some common themes.
If you want to know a little more about who we are – take a look at the recently updated staff page.
From Sarah (Executive Director):
The Cle Elum Seven have taught me what’s important and what’s not. Play is important. Rest is important. A cozy bed, friends and family, respect. Good food. Alone time is important. What’s not important? That traffic jam, those weeds in the garden, that two-hour long meeting, that rude guy who cut in line at the grocery store. In the world of the Cle Elum Seven, none of that matters!
Negra has taught me that it’s never too late. Taken from the wild (and probably her mother), slapped in a cage for 30 years, held in solitary confinement, poked, prodded, darted. In her shoes, I’d be angry and lost. But not Negra! She’s always beautiful, quietly confident, knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to tell us when we’re doing it wrong, and takes pleasure in little things like sunshine and peanuts. And seeing her play – there are no words for how special that sight is! It’s never too late to play.
From J.B. (Director of Operations):
Negra doesn’t ask for much. All she seems to need in life is a pile of fresh blankets, a warm spot in the sun, and a steady supply of night bags.
Night bags, of course, are a nightly ritual here at CSNW. After dinner, the chimps each receive a paper lunch sack filled with a small handful of nuts, seeds, dried fruit and other healthy snacks. It’s something that Diana and I picked up while working at the Fauna Foundation, and it has been part of our routine here from the beginning. After three years in sanctuary, Negra has eaten approximately 1,095 night bags. You’d think she’d be sick of them by now. But you’d be wrong.
Think of the happiest moment of your life – that brief period of joyful anticipation when you realized that the thing you had always wanted was about to come true. That happens to Negra every night.
Negra eats dinner the way that a kid finishes her brussels sprouts so that she can have dessert. Dinner is but a means to an end for her. After she scarfs down what she considers to be enough to satisfy her caregivers, she begins clapping for the wait staff to fetch her the good stuff. When we return with the night bags, Negra breaks into an ear-to-ear grin – not a smile, but a full fledged chimpanzee grin, an expression that is reserved for intense fear or excitement. The grin is accompanied by a vocalization that is a cross between a food squeak and a scream, but it’s all straining and no voice, like the sound can’t find a way out.
Then comes my favorite five seconds of the day. At the moment when you pick up Negra’s night bag to give it to her, a calmness sets over her. Her ears go back a little and her face relaxes. Her gaze fixes upon the bag and nothing else seems to exist in her world. After waiting an agonizing 23 hours and 55 minutes, she finally has a night bag again, and for a moment everything is right with the world.
I don’t know how she does it. How do you maintain that level of excitement over something so mundane? Maybe, after a lifetime in the laboratory, you learn to appreciate the small stuff. Or maybe she just has a rare hereditary peanut addiction. In any case, Negra reminds me to never take anything for granted.
From Jackie (Development Coordinator):
I’ve learned so much from the Cle Elum 7, it’s hard to even know where to begin. I’ve learned to laugh, to play, to love, to enjoy my home, to enjoy time with my friends, to relax, and to appreciate all that I have, rather than to dwell on what I don’t have. The chimps’ forgiveness of us humans astounds me and inspires me to let go of the past and to move forward in my day to day life. Negra, above others, has shown how one can move forward from past experiences. The nightmare she lived for so long before coming to her sanctuary home saddens me to no end. I remember when I first came to CSNW, she didn’t trust me (or anyone, for that matter). She still had many signs of PTSD, including threat barking and poking at us when we moved towards her to offer our wrists (even when she initiated it by sticking her lips out of the cage, asking for a kiss). It took her a while, but I haven’t seen her do that in a long time, which to me, says so much about what sanctuary means for her. She has learned to trust us and is more comfortable in her home… and that is what sanctuary is about. And to me, after all she has been through, there truly isn’t anything more special than a kiss from the Queen.
From Elizabeth (Volunteer Coordinator):
From Jamie, I’ve learned to speak up when I disagree with something.
From Missy, I’ve learned that a sense of humor can get you through just about anything.
From Burrito, I’ve learned to forge ahead, even if you’re out of your element.
From Annie, I’ve learned to always expect surprises.
From Foxie, I’ve learned that it’s never too late for a second childhood.
From Jody, I’ve learned to be serious about comfort.
From Negra, I’ve learned the importance of being unapologetically oneself.
From Diana (me, Director of Outreach):
The Cle Elum Seven have taught me unconditional love. I love each of them so much for who they are and who they are becoming.
My love for Negra was immediate – I’ve had a big soft spot for her ever since I met her at Buckshire. She and I get along well, but she’s not someone who interacts with humans that much, and I’m probably not on the top of her list of favorite people. And this is totally okay. I really appreciate this about the chimps’ sanctuary lives – they can do what they want, like who they choose and just be themselves. Pretty much everything Negra does endears me to her more. I really admire her for knowing what she wants. I have learned the importance of routine from Negra. My favorite Negra routine is when we show her the little bowl of nuts on the breakfast tray. It’s there every morning, but every morning we have to show it to her in order to get her moving for breakfast. Most often, once she sees the nuts, she throws off the blanket she has around her shoulders, lets out an excited food squeak, and comes downstairs. It’s a ritual that makes me so happy.
This past year, I’ve learned the most from Annie. Though chimpanzee hierarchy can be a bit fluid and definitely more complicated than a strict linear hierarchy, it was clear that Annie was at the bottom in terms of ranking within the group. I’ve known other chimpanzees in the least dominant position before. Low ranking chimpanzees that I have known often choose to spend time by themselves and seem to be anxious a lot of the time, particularly when interacting with others. From my perspective, they often overreact in social situations which can cause a cycle that seems to reinforce their low ranking status. I think the same scenario plays out in human social groups (both kids and adults). To be honest, I thought Annie would be in this least dominant position in the group possibly forever. I’ve never witnessed the lowest ranking individual successfully and calmly begin to assert themselves. I do not pretend to know all of the nuances of chimpanzee behavior or all of the subtle dynamics of the Cle Elum Seven. No doubt there’s a lot going on that I’m not aware of, so I don’t know what caused Annie to change. But I do know she has changed dramatically. She doesn’t overreact as much anymore and she asserts herself when she wants something and even during conflicts. We’ve been joking about how one day she might be the leader of the group, but perhaps it’s not a joke at all. From Annie, I’ve learned that anything is possible and everyone can change.
From all of us:
It’s not just the chimpanzees who have taught us these past three years. We’ve learned a tremendous amount from you, the supporters of Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest. We’ve learned that your generosity is boundless, your energy is contagious, your ideas are brilliant and your dedication is unmatched. Perhaps most importantly, we’ve learned to update the blog regularly because you are as hooked on the Cle Elum Seven as we are.