When Foxie first came to Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest in 2008, she had trouble adapting. She was cautious when it came to developing relationships with new people, though given her history that wasn’t an unreasonable approach. But she was also wary of her new surroundings, especially in larger spaces. Each time she was allowed into a new area, she would cling to the walls or walk in circles around the edge of the room. She was also uneasy with all the enrichment we provided to the chimps each day. She would go out of her way to avoid walking near the piles of toys we put in the playroom, and while the other chimps would make nests each night with fresh blankets, Foxie would push them out of the way to clear a spot for herself on the bare concrete floor. Weeks passed, and while the other chimps reveled in all the new opportunities available to them, Foxie continued to find comfort in the emptiness that was all she had known for 31 years.
Then one day she met Trixie.
It was just a doll, but Foxie was immediately drawn to it. Her reasons for choosing this troll doll, in all its pink-haired, pantsless glory, will remain one of life’s great mysteries. But we look back on that moment now as a turning point for Foxie. She hung onto Trixie and carried her everywhere she went. Supporters started sending in more dolls, and Foxie’s collection grew into the hundreds. The dolls were a source of entertainment for Foxie, but they also provided comfort and seemed to instill in her a sense of confidence and purpose. And they helped ease her into this new world filled with new people and things.
Whatever the reason for Foxie’s obsession, we thought it was uniquely hers. The other chimps would pick up trolls from time to time, but mostly just to initiate games of chase with Foxie. They didn’t seem to get it. This type of deep and lasting connection between chimp and troll was limited to one quirky chimpanzee at one quirky sanctuary in the mountains of Washington.
That is, until Negra decided it was time to get in on this whole “troll” thing.
For the last couple of weeks, Negra has been carrying around troll dolls everywhere. She takes them to bed and sleeps with them in her nest. She shows up at meal time with them tucked into her “pelvic pocket.”
We have no idea what makes a chimpanzee decide, at age 41 and after six years at the sanctuary, to adopt troll dolls. Maybe it’s like the chimpanzees at Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage in Zambia who all decided that it was cool to stick grass in their ears. Maybe she’s watched Foxie carry these things around for so long that she’s finally decided to see what the fuss is about. Or maybe Negra just realized that, after having her own children stolen from her in the lab, it felt good to care for someone, even if they are made of plastic.
Some things you just can’t explain.