On this New Year’s Day, I would like to share a story with you about my friend, Foxie. As a rule, if we are having an off day about anything we work very hard not to bring it to the chimp house. We are here to make the chimpanzees’ days better and it’s not fair for them to have to deal with anything less than our best. At the same time, we’re human. And chimpanzees, being chimpanzees, are incredibly sensitive to what’s going on around them, and with their caregivers, whether we think we are hiding something or not.
So on this occasion, I had been having a rough day and after spending some time outside returned to the chimp house having “re-collected” myself. I had my back to the chimp area and was working on enrichment when I suddenly heard Foxie blowing raspberries and trying to get my attention. This is normal Foxie behavior when she is trying to get our attention to play or let us know she needs something. When I turned to look at her she appeared to be seeking reassurance, though all the other chimpanzees seemed to be resting peacefully. I walked down the hallway to make sure she was OK, thinking maybe she had dropped a troll, or had been hurt. As soon as I reached her she immediately met me at eye level and gazed intensely into my eyes, looking back and forth to each one. Then she reached her hand out to touch the back of my own and just held it there as she continued to gaze at me, seeming concerned. Not seeing a reason for her to be upset, after reassuring her for awhile I returned to work on enrichment. It didn’t dawn on me until later that day that Foxie had seemed to be offering me reassurance. Somehow, she seemed to read something in me that indicated I had been upset and was checking to make sure I was OK. Of course, I have no way of knowing what Foxie was truly thinking, this is merely my perception. But it seemed so evident.
This is why I am so passionate about what I do, and about what the sanctuary and conservation communities do as a whole. As caregivers we are so fortunate to be able to spend our days making theirs better in any way we can. We are so fortunate to share our lives with these seven amazing chimpanzee people. And they are people to me, just a different culture one might say. I recognize that most of you don’t have the opportunity to know a chimpanzee personally, or to experience a relationship with one. So my intent in sharing this story with you is the hope that you will see how very important and appreciated your support is in helping to provide them with the lives they deserve. To give further insight into how truly special they are.
2013 was an unprecedented year for chimpanzees. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) accepted the recommendations made by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in favor of phasing out the use of chimpanzees in invasive research and retiring most of them into the Federal Sanctuary System. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed to expand the protection of chimpanzees in captivity under the Endangered Species Act. We’ve learned so much more about personal choices we can make toward helping to ensure the conservation of free-living apes and protecting their environment. And great progress was made in furthering awareness about the use of apes in media and entertainment (check out Eyes on Apes if you would like to learn more about all of these things!).
I look toward 2014 full of gratitude for each one of you who made last year possible. I am honored to play a role with all of you in keeping that momentum going through 2014 and beyond. And not just for all the amazing beings we share this planet with. But for each of you and whatever calls to you, “announcing your place in the family of things.” There is still so much work to be done. And so I offer another quote from my favorite poet, Mary Oliver: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
From all of us at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest, we wish you the happiest of new years! And thank you for all you do!!