In the three and a half years since we opened Young’s Hill, the chimpanzees’ two-acre outdoor habitat, the chimps have become more and more comfortable with the wide open space it provides. It didn’t happen immediately for many of them. After living for thirty years in climate-controlled buildings, touching nothing but steel and concrete, it takes time to adjust to the feeling of wind through your hair, or hot sun on your back, or rain. Not to mention how vulnerable and exposed they must have felt in such a huge space – it wouldn’t have been surprising if one or more of the chimps decided not to venture out at all.
But they did go outside, and they have continued to go outside on most days since we first opened the hill. They have gradually become more at ease with things that they wouldn’t tolerate in the early days, like wind and rain and cold temperatures. Almost four years later, they’re still making strides.
In the last couple of weeks, Foxie has been pushing the boundaries of her own personal comfort zone and spending more time alone on Young’s Hill. Until recently, she has stayed near the bottom of the hill, closer to the familiar chimp house, during her excursions outside. The other day, though, I was on a perimeter walk with Jamie and we found Foxie all alone at the very top of the hill, calmly and methodically exploring. I thought she might be relieved to see us, and join us on our walk back down to the chimp house, but she remained up there by herself, walking around in the grass. There are certain moments when one of the chimps surprises you in the best way, and that was one of them.
Today really feels like spring in Cle Elum – warm temperatures and a pleasant breeze – so we set up a lunch forage on Young’s Hill. Foxie was one of the last ones to remain outside after the others had gone back into the greenhouse with their food.