Chimpanzees are weird. I mean that in the nicest possible way, of course. But there are days when this job borders on surreal.
As many of you know, Jamie has a very strong personality and when she wants something she has no problem letting us know. Usually she just wants a pair of cowboy boots and we are happy to oblige. But for the last couple of months, Jamie’s demands were incessant and we could not figure out what she was asking for.
We tried all of the usual things…boots, a drink from the hose, a magazine to flip through, more boots…to no avail. We’d bring out entire bins full of enrichment and take each piece out one at a time looking for signs of interest, but our efforts only made her more frustrated. As caregivers, we felt like failures.
Somehow we stumbled upon the answer. And when I tell you what it was, you’ll see why we had so much trouble figuring it out.
She wants us to wear cowboy boots.
And walk with her.
All the way around Young’s Hill.
Two to three times.
And when we get back, she wants us to give her the boots off our feet.
The primate behavior textbooks we read in school did not prepare us for this.
Chimpanzees are incredibly intelligent and they have strong individual preferences. Add to this mix a childhood in the unnatural environment of the lab, circus, or human home and you end up in a strange place. All chimpanzee caregivers will tell you of a chimpanzee they know with an odd predilection – the chimp that demands that the TV be turned on when Oprah comes on at 3pm or the chimp that will only drink a specific brand of tea. Chimps that like Halloween masks or particular types of hats or Sponge Bob Square Pants pillows.
When you think about it, this strangeness is a window into a complex, creative mind that is caught between two worlds. Biologically, they’re all chimpanzee, but mentally and culturally, they’re not quite chimpanzee and not quite human. We do what we can to bring the “chimpanzeeness” out of them, but at the same time we can’t deny their histories. So we dance for Negra. And we run around with troll dolls in our pockets for Foxie. And now, we run laps around the enclosure in the ugliest boots you have ever seen.
Don’t judge me:
Off we go:
You would assume that Jamie has fun doing this, but there’s no smiling or laughing. It’s all business:
Once and a while she glances over at us or, more specifically, the boots:
Once we get back, the boot is given back to its rightful owner and the game is finished…for a little while, at least: