You’ve probably noticed that all of us here at CSNW get excited when the chimps are out on Young’s Hill. Knowing that they lived for decades in small cages in a windowless basement, we celebrate every minute that they can feel the warmth of the sun on their backs, the dampness of the grass beneath their feet, or the cool breeze through their hair.
This year, it’s been all about Negra. Every chimpanzee does things in her own way, and in her own time, and Negra tends to approach things much more slowly and cautiously than the others. But this spring, she has found her confidence out on the hill. She is often the first one out the door in the morning, and sometimes the only one out in the afternoon. She loves eating her breakfast, or handfuls of spring grass, in the shade of the bamboo or one of the many climbing structures.
This morning, we were thrilled to see her try something she hasn’t done before. She crawled into the underground tunnel and stayed there for about 15 minutes while snacking on grass and dandelion leaves. Every once and a while she’d pop out to grab more grass and then retreat to her hiding spot.
Sometimes, when you provide captive chimpanzees with choices, they’ll surprise you. For a while, we thought that Negra would choose to stay indoors in bed as the other chimps frolicked outside. But when she was ready, she chose to join them.
But as Negra spends more and more time on the hill, it’s worth noting that none of the Cle Elum Seven spend their entire day outside.
In the morning, it’s common to see all seven chimps on the hill, whether we put their breakfast out there or not. Today, Foxie took a Dora and a troll on her morning adventure.
And Missy defied gravity, as she often does.
But when they’ve had enough playing and exploring, the chimps usually head back inside for a nap. They could choose to build a nest outside, but they seem to prefer napping indoors.
The greenhouse is everyone’s favorite spot year round. In the winter, they might wrap themselves up in a blanket on the second level of the platform, where it is warmest. But on a hot day like today, it’s common to see most of the group sprawled out on the lower platforms. They don’t like to be outside in the direct sun for too long, but they love the heat in the greenhouse. It’s like a sauna.
When the chimps want to relax and let their guard down, I think they feel more secure in an environment that is more familiar to them – one that has four walls and a roof.
And I think they also like to keep an eye on what the humans are doing. While we clean the playroom in the morning, Burrito often sits in the window of the greenhouse, watching us. Burrito was raised by humans, so it’s no surprise that he likes to be part of our world and keep up with what we’re doing. But more importantly, he wants to see what kind of food we are going to put out in the playroom once it’s cleaned. One track mind, that guy.
Sometimes the chimps just want to be alone, so you will occasionally find someone in the front rooms while we are cleaning the playroom. This morning, Diana put on some boots for Jamie, and after they walked around the hill she gave them to her. Jamie wore one of the boots to bed and rested her head on the other.
It can be hard to separate your own ideas of what’s best for the chimps from their ideas of what’s best for themselves. On days like today, when it’s 86 degrees and sunny and Jamie is sleeping on the floor inside, I feel like a parent whose kids are inside playing video games on a beautiful day. But that’s a silly way to think. The chimps are most certainly not our kids; in fact, most of them are older than me. And after all, what’s the point of sanctuary if not to give them choices?