Foxie was born and raised in a biomedical research facility. Before arriving at the sanctuary she had never experienced grass underfoot or sky over head. She was completely unfamiliar with wind, rain, snow or sun. She grew up unaccustomed to blankets to nest with, enrichment to play with, or the every day challenges her free-living counterparts face which engage their intelligent minds and active bodies. Living as a biomedical research subject, Foxie’s every day challenges were survival based on an entirely different level. What was going to happen each day? Where was she going to be taken? What was going to be done to her? What was going to be taken from her?
Of course, this isn’t just Foxie’s story, but the story of every chimpanzee in biomedical research. As you may be able to imagine, once here in their sanctuary home each of the chimpanzees responded differently to all the options they found suddenly available to them. But it took Foxie awhile to warm up to the idea of investigating all the new enrichment and activities on offer. Like each of the chimpanzees, over six years later it remains an area she continues to make progress in in her own time and way. And given her former life, this isn’t surprising. Changes probably brought about fear and uncertainty and new things probably weren’t to be trusted. When your whole world exists primarily in a cage not much bigger than a bathroom stall the world outside of that, no matter how wonderful, could easily feel overwhelming and terrifying at times.
Knowing this, I couldn’t possibly have more admiration for the courage the chimpanzees display as they push past their own private fears. I remember the first day I found Foxie exploring Young’s Hill all by herself. I had gone out to visit the chimpanzees and found everyone in the greenhouse, relaxing. Everyone except Foxie. When I went to look for her, I was surprised to see her half way up Young’s Hill, with one of her troll dolls on her back, walking hand over hand, foot over foot, into the grass. She stopped briefly to look at me and nod and then carried on her way. It’s hard to express the variety of emotions I had for her in that moment, but it will always be one of my most treasured.
It’s increasingly common these days to find Foxie exploring new territory, particularly Young’s Hill, on her own. She still remains very cautious of the climbing structures and typically avoids the structures that swing or move. But not long ago, I spotted her headed up the hill with a look of purpose. With green haired troll in tow, Foxie was going exploring:
And explore she did. Here she set her “baby” down just long enough to test the structure out by shaking things:
Then she took a minute to confer with the troll:
Biting is a good way to test the sturdiness of things:
Apparently happy with the results, she decided to enjoy her perch for a few moments. But look at that expression of determination:
Foxie went on to climb and investigate more of Young’s Hill that day than I have seen her do before. It was a side of her I hadn’t seen before and one I felt so privileged to witness. But so much more than that, was the joy and gratitude I felt for whatever had healed in her enough that allowed her desire to explore to outweigh her fear. And to feel safe being that much more herself.