Nothing makes me happier than when I go out to see what the chimpanzees are up to and they are happily engaged in their own activities, sometimes gracing me with a cursory glance or friendly head nod, then getting back to what they were doing. This happiness is tenfold when it’s Jamie who is hanging out with the other chimpanzees and simply doesn’t want or need my attention.
I’m not going to lie, it is pretty fantastic to be greeted enthusiastically by a chimpanzee. I’m a (mostly) social primate too, and it feels good when someone is happy to see me and wants to spend time with me. However, part of our job at the sanctuary is to create an environment where the humans are available but not essential to the social lives of the chimpanzees in our care.
J.B. explained in this blog post at the beginning of the year that Jamie is often not involved in grooming parties with the other chimpanzees because she tends to exist on the fringes of the chimpanzees social group, often preferring to receive attention from the humans. This makes a lot of sense – she spent the first nine years of her life very likely thinking she was a human, then she was put into biomedical research for a couple of decades before coming to the sanctuary. To say that her relationship with humans is complicated is an understatement.
We do grant her the time that she desires with the humans. We want to provide all of the chimpanzees with the things and experiences that make them feel secure, content, and joyful, and that’s different for each of them. We respect who they are as chimpanzees, however, and we limit the contact that we have with them. Even their best human friends are never with them without steel caging, chimp-proof glass, or electric fence between us (aside from medical procedures when they are fully sedated). This is for our safety. And it’s also to let them have their own space where they can be chimpanzees.
The humans are just a part of their lives. We come and we go. Their most important social relationships are with one another.
So, you can imagine my happiness when I came upon a grooming session between Jamie and Foxie today and they ignored me.
They can be physical with each other in ways that the humans cannot, and that’s the way it should be. They don’t need us for this. They need each other.