It’s impossible to overstate just how much power Jamie has over the staff and volunteers at CSNW. Sometimes, as I walk up the driveway to the chimp house in the morning, I find myself saying a silent prayer to the chimp gods that she is in a good mood. And if she isn’t, I pray that her attention will be directed at someone other than me.
But the chimp gods don’t seem to hear me, because this is the face that often greets us.
Or worse, this:
This is when you know it’s going to be a long day.
My love and admiration for Jamie is limitless. She is brilliant and creative and brave. But she also possesses a thirst for power and control unlike anyone I have ever known.
In the normal course of life at the sanctuary, Jamie and I sometimes find ourselves disagreeing about what should be done. I think Foxie should be given a banana, Jamie does not. I think I should open the chimps’ door to the greenhouse, Jamie does not. I think I should be able to stand at the sink and quietly scrub the chimps’ toys, Jamie does not.
When Jamie disagrees, she makes sure she is understood. In fights with the other chimps, she usually wins simply by screaming louder and longer than anyone else, but she’s not afraid to get physical if need be. She makes her opinion known to her caregivers with a mouthful of water or a handful of feces. And let me tell you, I don’t care how strongly you believe in doing something…flying feces always has a way of making you reconsider.
This particular character trait is not something I would look for in a human friend (especially the feces throwing). But with Jamie, it makes me admire her even more. How on earth did someone so in need of control and power, so determined to be respected by humans and chimps alike, ever survive life in the laboratory?
There needs to be a chimp equivalent to the word “dehumanizing,” because that’s what life was for her. You could see it in her eyes when we first met her in the lab.
And if you couldn’t see it in her eyes, surely you couldn’t miss it tattooed across her chest.
When the chimps first came to the sanctuary, I was so excited. But I can barely look at those photos of her now. She looks so powerless.
I always wonder what the Cle Elum Seven chimpanzees would be like if they had lived in the wild. If they had been raised by their mothers. If they had raised their own children. How much of the chimpanzees we know and love would we recognize?
I have a feeling Jamie would still have been a force to be reckoned with. I think it’s in her bones. But she would have been able to play by chimpanzee rules in a chimpanzee society, without ever knowing the indignity and humiliation of life in captivity.
To us, sanctuary is all about finding what each individual chimpanzee needs to be happy. And for Jamie, that’s easy…total and absolute power.
So if being grumpy makes her happy, that’s cool with us.