Imagine yourself in a cage barely bigger than your body. Now imagine that you’ve been in that cage for decades. You’ve probably never been outside. You don’t know what the sun feels like, or the wind, or the rain. You don’t know what the ground feels like under your feet.
Annie, Burrito, Foxie, Jamie, Jody, Missy, and Negra spent most of their lives in these conditions. Coming to the sanctuary was quite literally a whole new world for them. Even the positive changes in their environment were frightening at first.
Burrito is as macho as any self-respecting male chimp, but his bravado is mostly for show. He’s really afraid of just about everything. He struggles with most changes in his environment. When the greenhouse was new, he refused to step foot in it for months, even if it meant skipping a meal. He’s never seemed as comfortable with his physicality as some of the other chimps. He seems to distrust his own coordination and balance when it comes to climbing and exploring. But it became evident early on that, given time, Burrito pushes through his fears with determination.
When Annie first moved to CSNW, she clung to her best friend Missy like she was a security blanket. Her severe social anxiety prevented her from asserting herself with the other chimpanzees – even joining a grooming or play session was too intimidating. When we opened Young’s Hill, the chimpanzees’ large outdoor habitat, Annie was torn between wanting to stick by Missy’s side as she explored, and wanting to remain in the safety of the indoors. Despite not wanting to lose sight of Missy, Annie couldn’t work up the courage to go outside, so she stayed behind and watched Missy anxiously until she returned.
Gradually and in her own time, Annie started following Missy outdoors, but shadowing her closely. Annie would not go out without Missy, and when Missy came back in, Annie came back in. But eventually, Annie began venturing out on her own and even seeming to relish her own company.
Negra likes the security of familiar places. She prefers the indoors to the outdoors; she seems to feel safer with something over her head. On her first day on Young’s Hill, she accidentally touched the electric fence that surrounds the habitat, and this experience seemed to confirm her belief that outside is a scary and dangerous place. It took her some time to go back out, and at first she would stay close to the chimp house at the bottom of the hill so that if something spooked her, she could run back inside. Over the years, though, Negra has chosen adventure over security more and more. In the spring when the grass is soft and sweet, we’ve even seen her clear at the top of the two-acre habitat sitting peacefully and alone.
When Foxie first came to the sanctuary, she trusted nothing and no one. She’s always been hesitant to touch new enrichment items, as though she suspects they might hurt her. When new structures are added to the chimps’ home, Foxie invariably puts them through a series of systematic tests to determine their integrity, durability, and safety. She carries at least one doll almost everywhere she goes; her dolls seem to lend her confidence when she’s lacking it. Despite her fears, Foxie has an admirable independent streak. She likes to stay outside, alone or with her dolls, long after the other chimpanzees have gone in. She sits on a climbing structure – once she determines they’re safe, they’re safe – and looks out over the valley, or strolls leisurely through the grass that is as tall as she is. She must feel so small and vulnerable, but she persists.
For the Cle Elum Seven, sanctuary is about letting go of the old and embracing the new. There will always be fear and anxiety, but with every day that passes, the chimpanzees are more and more equipped to push through and live the life they deserve. We’re so lucky to be here to witness it.