One of the most satisfying things about working at a sanctuary is having the opportunity to give the chimpanzees what they need after decades of deprivation. As a species, chimpanzees need the company of other chimpanzees, good food, fresh air and sunshine, and space to roam. We work hard everyday to meet these needs. But caring for a group of chimpanzees means more than caring for a species; it means caring for unique individuals, all with their own individual needs. Their own personalities, their own interests, their own likes and dislikes. Catering to the needs of each individual chimpanzee we care for is an extremely rewarding challenge.
The individual at the sanctuary who demands the most of us is Jamie. She demands our attention, our patience, our creativity, our respect. Jamie is the self-appointed leader of the group, and she takes this position very seriously. Jamie needs to be respected in the same way that she needs food to eat and air to breathe. She is determined and focused, and she makes what she wants a reality.
It is almost impossible for me to imagine Jamie in the research lab, where for decades she was forced to submit to humans against her will. For someone with so much fire inside her, that had to be torture. These days, Jamie wouldn’t think of letting herself be bossed around. She is finally home – a place where she calls the shots.
As Jamie’s caregivers, it’s our job to give her the opportunity to be who she is and get what she needs. Jamie has no qualms about letting us know what she wants from us, and when we are succeeding or failing. It is our honor to submit to her will.