At Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest, we have three levels of volunteers that work in the chimp house. As a level one volunteer, you get to work in the chimpanzees’ kitchen, washing produce, preparing enrichment and meals, etc. As a level two volunteer, you get participate in cleaning enclosures and performing safety checks (in addition to the level one duties). Level three training is all about learning to serve meals and interact with the chimpanzees safely (always from outside of the chimpanzees’ enclosure). For many, level three training is very exciting as you start to develop a more personal relationship with each of the chimpanzees. But let me tell you, getting to know the chimpanzees is not all sunshine and roses (or food grunts and play faces).
Chimpanzees can be relentless with their initiation rituals. They will make sure you know safety rules as well as obey the hierarchy of the group as soon as you serve your first banana. Jamie especially, will come down hard with her trial by fire. She often seems to make up rules as she goes along, just to make you suffer. The consequences for “disobeying” her (and trust me, everyone does at some point) are fierce. Getting a face full of smoothie or water spit at you (with the other chimpanzees threat barking their encouragement) is a kind punishment as far as Jamie’s concerned.
Volunteer Yuri demonstrates how to wear blueberry smoothie and look happy doing it. Today was his first morning serving breakfast as a Level three trainee and Jamie gave him something to remember her by.
Speaking of having things spit at you…and this is not a proud moment for me… but I will tell you that I once had a protein drink spit at me (at a different sanctuary) with such force that it went up my nose and I tasted it in the back of my throat. Gross, right?
It’s hard to believe that this sweet looking chimpanzee was throwing unspeakable things at us just this morning, but that’s part of the fun and intrigue of working with beings that wear their emotions on their sleeve.