I have never seen so much commotion in the Chimp House. All day, every day, the facility feels busier than it ever has before. In so many ways, the sanctuary feels full.
There are now chimps occupying every space again. Volunteers rushed back and forth all day to get the daily tasks done, and the interns feel more present in the Chimp House as their training progresses and they learn to work more confidently and independently. The full team of staff was on site today, coordinating duties and organizing the management of the chimps. The refrigerator is stocked with produce (especially thanks to a recent donation of gift cards) and the foyer is full of new enrichment items and devices. It seems like every square inch of every whiteboard is covered in scribbled notes about healing wounds and treatment plans, and the kitchen counters are covered in a cornucopia of soft foods as we try to get Burrito to take his cocktail of medications. Most importantly, for the first time in a few days, the building is full of good humor and positive hope as we set our sights on recovering and rebuilding.
The events of this past Friday were challenging, to say the least. We all feel sympathy for Burrito and have to deal with the sobering awareness that our own chimpanzee friends used such unrelenting physical violence against him. It’s easy to think that such a horrifying incident would derail us. We are professionals, though, and were prepared for this unlikely outcome even though we tried to give the chimpanzees the best opportunities to develop a tolerance for one another and forge new relationships. As anyone in the field of primate care can attest, introducing unfamiliar individuals is always risky and rarely goes smoothly, even when the result is a resounding success. Of all the chimpanzees, Burrito certainly doesn’t have the best social skills, so we knew that he might have some difficulty coping with the uncertainty and chaos of social integrations. The chimpanzees had a string of victories punctuated by a couple of heartbreaking incidents, and we are already drawing insight from those experiences so that we can continue to give the chimpanzees informed and specialized care in the future. Although we are diverting our efforts away from integrating the two current groups with one another, we know that we will eventually have to do some restructuring if we plan to take in more chimpanzees in the coming years. Recuperating and reflecting after the recent setback are both important, but we continue to move forward towards our ultimate goals.
Today, when I unlocked the Chimp House, the chimpanzees greeted me with a chorus of anticipatory pant hoots. Burrito was sitting up and appeared bright and alert as Annie groomed him through the mesh window that still separates him from the other chimps. Honey B was excitedly grooming with Mave and Willy B, and you’d have no idea that she was recently injured if she didn’t make a habit of enthusiastically showing everyone her missing toe. The six original females (who are still the Girl Gang, I suppose) were back to their usual pre-breakfast drama in the Playroom. The day went smoothly, with Burrito’s appetite and humor improving (see photos below) and all of the chimps falling back into some semblance of a routine. Yesterday felt better than the day before, and today felt noticeably better than yesterday. Tomorrow will be even better.
Through it all, I cannot emphasize enough how supportive our community has been. We continue to receive messages of encouragement and compassion from all of Burrito’s fans and are blown away by how invested you all are in his well-being. Our network of followers and donors is strong and vast but our on-site support has been just as dedicated, caring, and helpful. We’ve had volunteers completing unusual tasks, such as grocery shopping and preparing special meals for Burrito, so that our staff can focus on administering medications and managing the complex social groupings. Our regular Monday interns brought in care packages for the staff (mostly snacks) and today’s crew showed up with coffee and hot chocolate for everyone. On campus, students are staying late after J.B.’s primate welfare lectures to ask about the chimps and demonstrate their support. Today, former caregiver Elizabeth stopped by to hang out with Burrito even though her next shift as a volunteer isn’t until the weekend. These are just some examples, but the acts of appreciation and encouragement have truly been numerous and remarkable.
Last week was difficult, for sure, but it’s easy for us caregivers to keep showing up and working hard to build a better life for chimpanzees when all of you do the same. It is because of you that we can fill this space with supplies, fill it with more chimpanzees, fill it with committed and valuable personnel, and fill it with hope for the future. Once again, thank you all.