Outside of the entrance to the chimp house we keep one of the protocol cages that the chimpanzees lived in, in a windowless basement, during their decades being used in biomedical research. We must pass it each day as we unlock the door. It provides an opportunity for people who visit the sanctuary to envision to some degree what the chimpanzees’ lives consisted of before coming here. And it helps me remember every day why I’m here. It’s heartbreaking, of course, to look at. Imagine having spent every day of your life for over three decades living inside this (minus the scenery):
You never see the sky or green grass, you never feel the sun or the breeze, and for the most part you are unaware that anything exists outside of this view:
I spent several minutes today sitting inside this cage. I couldn’t stand up to my full height. It was hard to balance on the floor made of bars. And there is only a small, cold metal bench to sit on. The chimpanzees would not have had blankets to build nests with and no enrichment to engage their intelligent and active minds. I thought of my seven dear friends having lived every day this way in so much fear, uncertainty, boredom, and at many times, pain. You can imagine the wave of heartfelt sorrow and anger I felt for all they have endured. And what so many still do.
And then I looked out to the view of Young’s Hill from the cage:
Earlier today I told Jamie we would walk around Young’s Hill to her heart’s content. And boy did we. Around and around, up one side and turning to retrace our steps back down the other way. I lost count of how many times we went around. And for the first time that I’ve experienced, Burrito joined us in our patrol of the perimeter the entire way! Foxie and Dora, and even Jody came along for part of the way, while Annie and Missy chased each other up and down the hill. (It was cold today and Negra chose to stay in the comfort of her warm, cozy nest). Finally, after several laps around Young’s Hill, I suddenly lost sight of Jamie and had to go looking for her. This was a first! I eventually found her back in the front rooms, waiting for me to give her the cowgirl boot (which I had of course been wearing). I guess she had indeed walked to her heart’s content.
Imagine what it must feel like to these seven chimpanzee people to be able to see the sky above and feel the earth below, unobstructed.
And to MOVE for the sheer joy of moving like Missy:
Several days ago Jamie gifted me with an amazing moment. During a walk around the hill she had me wait while she foraged and climbed over every inch of the structures. At one point she suddenly climbed up a post, stood bipedally on the very top with her arms hanging at her sides and threw her head back as she stared up at the sky for several seconds. A simple, yet profound moment. Then she turned and looked at me, climbed down and raced me all the way back to the greenhouse with a huge play face. I am immeasurably grateful that the chimpanzees have the chance to call a sanctuary home. And I remember all those languishing in cages and labs who are still in need of their sanctuary.
Though that moment with Jamie will forever be burned into my mind, I unfortunately didn’t get a photo. But this is one of my favorites and I think it speaks volumes all the same.