When you begin the process of chimpanzee group formation, you do so knowing that 10-20% of all introduction attempts do not succeed. Sadly, this is the fate that we have now come to accept for our efforts to integrate Willy B, Honey B, and Mave with the Cle Elum Seven.
For the last week, Burrito and Negra had been living in relative harmony with the newcomers, and further introductions were planned for next week. Unfortunately, we were awoken yesterday at 4:30 a.m. to the sounds of screams from our closed circuit camera system. Minutes later, we arrived at the chimp house to find this group engaged in a very serious conflict. We believe it started between Burrito and Honey B but we can’t be sure. Burrito sustained some significant trauma, most notably to his scrotum. Due to the substantial risk of infection and the presence of an existing mass on one of his testicles, our veterinary team decided that castration was the best course of treatment for his injury. Honey B also sustained a serious bite to her small toe, which was later amputated. Both did well during their procedures and are recovering uneventfully thus far.
Conflicts and injury are part and parcel of the introduction process. If we took a zero-tolerance approach to injuries during integration attempts, we would almost never integrate captive chimpanzees. But there is a limit to what we should tolerate on their behalf, based on the extent of the injuries, what we think we can realistically hope to achieve for them from the process, and, ultimately, what is fair to the chimps involved. While it is still true that this group of ten could eventually be formed, to everyone’s ultimate benefit, we feel that the chimps have done all they can for now. Each chimp’s individual safety must remain the top priority.
We are disappointed and heartbroken, because there was so much potential. But we are also reminded once again to be grateful for just how much support these chimps have. Our veterinarian, Dr. Erin, immediately rushed to the sanctuary for what would become an incredibly stressful 16-hour day. Our staff, most of whom were enjoying some well-earned sleep on their days off, each responded to a 5:45 a.m. text without question and with a simple message: on my way. Other members of our veterinary team, Dr. Jen and Dr. Erika, came from the Seattle area on a moment’s notice, and we were fortunate to have surgical and ultrasound support on site from Dr. Khachatryan from Sumner Veterinary Hospital and x-ray equipment from Best Friends Mobile Veterinary Care. Board member and volunteer caregiver Jessica even covered our normal produce run while we were otherwise occupied. There is nothing that our friends and colleagues won’t do for these chimps.
We obviously didn’t hope for this outcome, but we did plan for the possibility. In the short term, Burrito and Honey B will return to their original groups, just as they were all living in the weeks following Willy B, Honey B, and Mave’s arrival. It’s possible that in time some chimps will be able to cross back and forth between groups so that the relationships they had been forming can be maintained. In early spring we plan to break ground on Phases 2 and 3 of our facility expansion, which will allow us to take in more chimps in need and create other opportunities for Willy B, Honey B, and Mave to live in a larger group that can meet all their social needs.
It may seem strange that chimps who can groom and play with one another the instant they meet or live together in a group for a week without incident would suddenly engage in such violent conflict. All I can say is that there are some things about chimpanzee behavior that you never fully understand but instead, simply come to accept. And we accept that our particular efforts in this case have, regrettably, not been successful. We’ll all take some time to heal, and then focus on creating the best sanctuary possible for these two groups of chimpanzees, as well as those to come.