Our facility is a maze of doors, and each is important in its own way.
To be exact, we have 31 doors that are intended for humans and 21 doors that allow chimpanzees to access different areas. All of these are within the electric fence perimeter that surrounds the Chimp House and Young’s Hill. There are many other doors, gates, and other entryways located around the property, and we still have many new ones left to build as we expand.
It’s not easy to get lost, but it is a never-ending challenge to keep track of the doors. Monitoring doors is one aspect of being a caregiver that we rarely mention on social media even though the task dominates our work day. We’re constantly double-checking to make sure doors are closed, testing the accompanying padlocks, and reporting to each other when we open and unlock new ones. We inspect the corresponding locks and levers that allow us to operate the hydraulic and pneumatic doors constantly, and we have a huge checklist of safety checks that we complete at the end of the day to ensure that the doors are open and closed in a safe and appropriate arrangement.
For the chimps, the doors are also a priority. This Chimp House is their territory, and they know every inch of it.
Free-ranging chimpanzees living in African forests use a combination of memorable landmarks and acute spatial awareness to find their way around. It’s not surprising, therefore, that our chimpanzee residents are highly attuned to changes in their own environment. Their ability to notice and remember minute details is remarkable, and we all have anecdotes that highlight their perceptiveness. Any changes to their home are, by default, their business, and sometimes even subtle changes can have a big impact on their day-to-day lives.
On Thursday, J.B. added a set of translucent vinyl flaps over the doorway that leads from the new chimp rooms into the outdoor chute. These flaps will allow us to have the door open while still keeping it warm inside, so they’re a critical addition as we prepare the sanctuary for winter. So far, Annie, Jamie, Jody and Missy have all learned to waltz through them without any noticeable issues. Foxie, on the other hand, is absolutely terrified of brushing past them. We’d probably have more luck asking her to go into the sewer drain from the opening scene of It. Each morning, she has had to muster up the courage to charge through the flaps on her way out onto the Hill, and then she has to dart back inside at the end of the day. Right now, as I am typing this, she is beating the flaps to death with one of her dolls as we try to entice her inside with handfuls of grapes and encouragement. We’re optimistic that she will acclimate eventually, especially since she sees four of her closest friends passing through repeatedly without hesitation. At one point, Jody even hit the flaps in what appeared to be Foxie’s defense. We have some options for making the strange new barrier less impactful, too.
On top of the new door flaps and the regular drama within her own social group (including a brief fight over breakfast), the tension between social groups has seemingly added to Foxie’s pre-existing anxiety. With Burrito, Honey B, Mave, Negra and Willy B now living together on the other side of the building, Foxie and her pals have been trying to interact with them through every window possible. To accommodate housing two social groups in the same facility, we’ve added another new door to the complex. This door, known by us as Door Z, is an additional barrier that separates the chimpanzees in the Greenhouse from those on Young’s Hill. Because of this, we could give the Girl Gang access to the Hill while the mixed group occupies the Greenhouse and Playroom.
Today, Jamie went to inspect the new door and search for a way through while the others followed. They were shocked to see Willy B’s silhouette through the semitransparent doors and they all took turns anxiously screaming, submissively pant-grunting, and excitedly bouncing at him. Even though the communication was mostly positive, the arousal was contagious and the females tried their best to break through the new steel door so that they could get closer to Willy. Foxie tried to stick her head around the new door, between the electrified wires of the fence, and ended up receiving a painful shock that sent her screaming back to the perceived safety of the chute.
Eventually, the drama subsided enough to let Willy take a peaceful nap while the Girl Gang resumed their normal activities of patrolling the boundary of Young’s Hill and exploring the habitat.
After our string of peaceful days in the Chimp House, today snapped us back to the reality of trying to manage two groups of chimpanzees in adjacent enclosures. It certainly had more than its share of drama and tension. The growing pains are very real, but we hope that every challenge we overcome now will lead to a more stable and enjoyable future for Foxie and her friends.