Young’s Hill, the chimps’ two-acre outdoor habitat, was opened on September 20, 2011. Before stepping onto Young’s Hill for the first time, many of the chimpanzees at the sanctuary had probably never felt earth under their feet or seen the sky above without looking through bars. While each of the chimps took his or her time finding their comfort level outside, Negra has struggled the most. Almost seven years after the hill opened, we’re still seeing Negra reach milestones as she pushes her own boundaries and becomes more and more at ease outside. It’s been an incredible journey to witness.
Here are some excerpts from our blog posts over the years as we’ve watched with pride and excitement while Negra has expanded her horizons.
9/21/11: Negra has been out twice, but not very far and not for long.
9/23/11: As I mentioned earlier, we’ve been putting forages out on the hill to encourage the chimps to go out. Negra will do anything for lettuce, so we’ve been using trails of lettuce leaves to lead her across the log bridge to the lowest platform. Tonight she climbed to the top of the platform for what I think was the first time.
On her way back she heard something that startled her. Determined to stay with her lettuce, she sought reassurance from a caregiver from afar, and then from Jamie who approached from below.
Negra amazes me. Imagine the courage that it takes to venture out into the wide open after living 35+ years in cages scarcely bigger than your own body. I am thrilled to see her on that hill.
5/12/12: It was a beautiful, sunny and still morning in Cle Elum, so we set up breakfast on Young’s Hill as a forage. We added some lettuce to the forage – one of Negra’s favorite foods. She went right out! I think it’s the first time since September, when the hill was first opened, that I’ve seen seven chimpanzees out there at once.
5/25/12: Just before dinner, I looked up on the hill and saw Negra and Jody eating dandelion leaves on top of what we call “Missy’s Mound” (a small hill with a tunnel running through it). They were a good 150 feet or so from the building, which I think is the farthest that Negra has ever traveled up the hill.
9/20/12: Negra still doesn’t spend too much extended time [on Young’s Hill], but she goes out most days first thing and soaks in some sun before heading back in to her favorite spot in the greenhouse or inside the playroom. Today, she was the first one out when I opened the door!
10/6/12: As we’ve mentioned in other posts, Negra has been the most hesitant to fully embrace Young’s Hill, but today she was the first one out of the raceway and sat for quite a long time on the log bridge enjoying the breakfast lettuce forage.
10/26/12: The biggest news of all is that Negra ventured out to check out her cabin yesterday. She didn’t make it all the way inside the cabin, but it was a big first step for her. You just never know when Negra is going to switch things up and try something new.
3/9/13: Volunteer Connie put out some lettuce on Young’s Hill and served the rest of breakfast in the greenhouse. Once Negra discovered the lettuce (one of her favorite foods) outside, she sat herself down in her cabin and enjoyed the warmth and comfort of the cabin that we named for her while all of the other chimpanzees were in the greenhouse. I didn’t want to get too close with the camera because Negra is at times weary of people taking photos when she’s on the hill, but I did take a few photos from a distance.
3/28/13: It’s been another beautiful day in Cle Elum today so I set out a huge lunch forage on Young’s Hill. Everyone went right out, which is always a treat, but not only that – Negra was first! I couldn’t take my eyes off of her as she marched right out and walked over to one of the climbing structures that is a bit further away than her usual spots close to the raceway. She grabbed a ton of greens along the way and found herself under the shaky bridge, which I am almost certain is an area she hasn’t explored yet.
5/19/13: Yesterday was a great day for all of us and Negra must have gotten caught up in the excitement because she did something we have never seen her do before: she climbed up onto the shaky bridge!
6/2/15: Over the last few days, Negra has established what looks to be a new routine for herself. After lunch, she marches confidently outside, walks all the way to the top of Young’s Hill, and stations herself in the tall grass to munch on some wild plants.
4/1/16: Negra has spent more time outside today than any of the other chimps.
5/17/16: Just off to the side of the newest Young’s Hill structure lies another “garden” mound of prickly lettuce. As caregivers searched to identify all seven chimpanzees so we could safely enter and clean the chimpanzee-free front rooms this morning, this is where we found Negra! It’s the farthest I have yet to see Negra travel on Young’s Hill and it’s pretty amazing to see this homebody continue to throw off her blankets and go just a little deeper into her 2 acres of green.
9/25/16: This year has been a turning point for Negra. This spring she started hiking straight up to the top of the two-acre Young’s Hill with no apparent anxiety to enjoy some of the wild greens growing up there. Today we set up a lunch forage on the hill and Negra headed outside with the rest of the group, calm and confident.
5/11/17: You can imagine our surprise and joy this afternoon as we watched Negra venture clear up to the top of Young’s Hill and plant herself calmly on a mound of wild greens. She had never been on this part of the hill before but she didn’t seem to be worried about that. The whole sanctuary held its breath as we stopped and watched in awe. She looked so small up there.
5/10/18: For today’s lunch forage, Negra not only ventured out but led the group onto the hill.
6/16/18: Two days ago, following our PRT session, I was starting on a walk with Jamie, when I noticed an unmistakable figure ahead. Though I knew it could only be Negra, I really questioned my eyes when I saw this chimpanzee person climb into the hammock.
6/18/18: With what seemed like an extra purpose in her step, Negra was the first to lead everyone onto the hill this morning and she explored and rambled around on her own for quite some time.
6/20/18: The only sure sign that spring hasn’t quite left, is that the grass still has its lovely green pigment, and Negra keeps making her way outdoors to eat the fresh vegetation on Young’s Hill.
7/3/18: We set out a lunch forage today, but almost everyone had other plans indoors. Negra was the first (and only) chimp for a few moments on Young’s Hill. She had a big head start, so she collected at least five pieces of corn before anyone joined her.
And a very relaxed Negra during this morning’s breakfast forage: