Jamie and Missy have somewhat different life histories, but they definitely share some things in common.
Missy was born in a laboratory in 1975 and used both for hepatitis vaccine testing (and likely other types of biomedical research) and also for breeding. She had four infants, but she did not get to raise any of them.
Jamie‘s early life, on the other hand, is a little more of a mystery. We believe she was born in captivity, and we were told that she was raised in a human environment by an animal trainer for the first nine years of her life. She most likely was used within the entertainment industry. Perhaps she was trained to do tricks and loaned out for birthday parties, or maybe she performed in a circus or a roadside zoo attraction.
After “growing up human” during her formative years, she was then put into biomedical testing and, like Missy and all of the Cle Elum Seven, she was used for hepatitis vaccine research. As far as we know, she was never used to breed more chimpanzees.
One somewhat random thing that these two chimpanzees have in common is the joy they seem to get out of tightrope walking.
Given Jamie’s early history, you might wonder whether she was trained to tightrope walk as a youngster, and perhaps she was.
But Missy, as far as we know, spent her entire life before coming to the sanctuary in laboratory environments, and not ones that likely had ropes or fire hose or the room to tightrope walk.
In the wild, chimpanzees do a lot of their traveling on the ground, but, when in the jungle, they do traverse through trees and vines to get from one place to another and when playing, hunting, fighting (or running away from a fight), foraging for fruit, and finding a spot for a nest. With their opposable toes, they can grip branches and vines with their feet.
Most good captive environments for great apes include ropes or fire hose so that the apes can do what comes naturally to them. If you google “tightrope walk chimp” you will find all sorts of photos of chimpanzees and (apparently mislabeled) gorillas, orangutans, and gibbons in zoos and sanctuaries.
With chimpanzees who have grown up in laboratories, you really never know what they will be comfortable with and what they may decide to ignore or even be afraid of doing. We are unlikely to ever see Foxie tightrope walk, given her avoidance of non-sturdy surfaces, but we did spot Burrito trying out this activity for the first time earlier this month (sorry, we didn’t get a photo). They are all going for year-ten firsts lately!
Jamie and Missy, though, both seem to really enjoy this activity and will do it on their own apparently just for fun. I noticed recently that they do have different styles. I think this may have to do with their individual centers of gravity.
Missy is short and can glide across a fire hose without much need for outstretched arms for balancing:
Jamie, on the other hand, is long and lean and seems to rely on quite a bit of balancing assistance from her arms:
Whatever the origins of their common interest in this activity, I’m just glad they can now do it whenever they want.