When given the opportunity, chimpanzees who have spent their entire lives in laboratory cages can learn to be chimps again.
They can learn to climb, run, leap, and swing:
They can learn to forage for their own snacks:
And they can learn to patrol and defend their territory :
But it takes patience. When you’ve spent your entire life surrounded by concrete and bars, those things can end up providing a certain kind of comfort. It’s what you know. It’s all you’ve ever known.
Little by little, the chimps at CSNW have embraced new opportunities, confronted some of their fears, and found that there was a little more “wild” in them than they may have realized when they were locked up in that laboratory basement.
This year, these changes seem to be happening at an accelerated pace. Burrito has been joining Jamie on her walks around the hill, and even going it alone at times. A couple of weeks ago, Foxie was seen sitting on the shaky bridge – a huge step for someone who has always been afraid of anything not firmly bolted down.
And this morning, we saw almost the entire troop take a walk up the hill together, far away from the building, just for the fun of it.
But along with patience, you also need understanding. Because these new experiences are adding to who they are, not replacing who they were. Foxie may be exploring new play structures, but she’s relying on Dora more than ever:
And while Jamie may be walking miles each day around the perimeter of Young’s Hill, she is ever more adamant that we dress in cowboy boots to go along with her. Let me give you an example of how particular she has become: Jamie’s favorite boots for the last few months have been a pair of all black women’s cowboy boots. She insists that her caregivers put them on before heading out on a walk. But some of us, ahem, do not fit easily into women’s boots, no matter how hard we try. That doesn’t concern Jamie. For a while, I tried to fake like I had them on, sticking just my toes in and then pulling my jeans down over them to cover my heels sticking out. No dice. As you put them on, she stares intently to ensure that you are wearing them properly. Heels must be all the way down.
There are times when I am reminded how crazy this all is – like when we finish up a walk and I return to the entry gate, only to have to strut my stuff across the driveway in ladies boots as the UPS driver unloads packages at the door. They must really wonder what’s going on here.
It’s crazy, but it’s who they are. You can’t erase their past, or what it’s led them to become. And why would you want to? So while we strive to provide more and more “wild” in their lives, we can never stop embracing the weird.