As much as possible, we make a point of sticking to a daily routine here at the sanctuary. We think it’s important that the chimpanzees know what to expect each day and when to expect it. (I’d imagine that one of the horrors of laboratory life would be never knowing what’s going to happen to you next.) We serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the same time each day. The chimpanzees are asked to shift to a separate area of their enclosure if they’d like to participate in the meal. Since we never enter an enclosure with the chimps — last Tuesday’s fight serves as a great reminder why — we need them to leave an area before we can enter to clean. Once in awhile someone chooses to skip a meal and stay out (usually Missy when she’s looking to have the Playroom to herself for a little while), in which case we just put off cleaning until the next meal. The vast majority of the time, though, everyone willingly shifts for the meal and we’re able to access the area they’ve evacuated. Since this is part of our daily routine, none of the chimpanzees are ever blindsided by the consequences of their choices. If Missy chooses not to shift for a meal, she knows that she’s also choosing not to eat that meal. She also knows that another meal will be offered a few hours later. Most days, if someone stays out for breakfast, everyone will shift at lunch and we can do our Playroom cleaning then. Very occasionally, someone will stay out for both breakfast and lunch and we’re unable to clean until dinner. Whatever happens, we have to remain flexible. Chimpanzees are intelligent and willful, and when they’re given the opportunity to make their own choices — like they are in good sanctuaries — they will.
Today Missy and Annie have skipped both breakfast and lunch to hang out in the Playroom. (If Missy chooses to play hooky from a meal, Annie almost always joins her.) It’s a rainy, gray day and I can’t blame them for not wanting to stray too far from their nests. If they choose to come in for dinner, Jackie and I will clean the Playroom then. If not, we’ll try again tomorrow morning. Either way, we’re happy that Annie and Missy and the rest of the Cle Elum Seven are now able to make their own choices for the first time in their lives.