There’s a memory I have of Foxie that comes to my mind frequently.
Foxie and her six friends arrived on June 13, 2008. Three days later, we put the finishing touches on the playroom and let the group into that large indoor space for the first time.
Here’s the memory, which I mentioned on the blog the day it occurred: Foxie spent a good 20 minutes walking all around the perimeter of the playroom, stomping. Foxie was born in a laboratory and the playroom was most likely the largest space she had ever been. She was 31 years old at the time.
Back then, I was eager, impatient even, to be able to give the chimpanzees more space and more freedom, but our budget dictated that we build the sanctuary around them as we slowly raised funds. It wasn’t until the end of August, a little more than two months after they arrived, that the seven got to go outside for the first time.
What we used to call the outdoor area we now refer to as the greenhouse, but this sunny, breezy, caged space served as their outdoors for three years, and was the only outdoor access some of them had ever experienced in their lives.
The construction of Young’s Hill, the open-top electric-fence enclosure that is now the outdoor habitat, took years of raising funds and planning followed by several months and many, many volunteer hands to construct. The chimpanzees had a front row seat to the construction.
Then, the day arrived. September 20, 2011, all seven chimpanzees poured out of the raceway and onto Young’s Hill, named after donors Karen and Don Young, for the first time.
Guess what Foxie did? She walked the entire perimeter (like she did with the playroom for the first time), then went back inside and didn’t go back out for over a week. Jamie, who was an old hand at exploring the hill by then, showed her and Jody some encouragement, which we captured with the point and shoot camera we were using at the time.
Fast forward more than eight years to today, and Foxie is often the lone chimpanzee on the hill, particularly when the habitat is covered in one of her favorite snacks – snow!
I took the opportunity to do a little shoveling today, and Foxie definitely appreciated my efforts that gave her access to unlimited snacking.
As I’m thinking back on what seemed to me at the time to be the sanctuary’s painstakingly slow transformation from “definitely far better than where they came from” to a sanctuary that is pretty darn impressive, along side Foxie’s gradual transformation from wary to intrepid explorer, I am also thinking about the new three chimpanzees who joined the sanctuary last August.
Things haven’t gone to plan, exactly. We hoped that Jamie would be guiding Mave out onto the hill, Honey B would be running along with her mom Missy, and Willy B and Burrito would probably be palling around in the greenhouse. We saw moments of this when we were working on the integrations, but the fights that also accompanied these budding relationships and the subsequent injuries told us that we would have to go to Plan B.
Luckily, we have a Plan B! We knew we would need one because integrations are never guaranteed. So, right now Honey B, Mave, and Willy B have a space that’s definitely better than where they were before. Their first explorations outside were a little frightening, so when we open the door at the end of the chute now, they simply stare. But we’ve created a courtyard outdoor space for them and maybe, come warmer weather, they will gather up their courage to explore. It’s up to them.
Come spring, we will be building more sanctuary around them. We will be adding two more playrooms and two more greenhouses so that we can bring more chimpanzees here this fall and so the three can have much more space than what they have now in what we refer to as Phase 1.
We also have plans to expand and divide Young’s Hill so two groups can have separate electric-fenced enclosures. We have received a donation towards this specific work from Jennifer Douglas, and the new section of the hill will be named in memory of James Douglas, who was a long-standing board member and whom we miss very much.
Once we have the (considerable) funds, we will also build a large enclosed outdoor area (think the greenhouse without the panels, but much bigger) for variety and in case there are chimpanzees who come to CSNW who cannot or will not go into the electric fence enclosure.
A few years from now, I wonder what I’ll be reflecting back on in amazement.
I am looking forward to seeing big transformations again, but I am also glad I get to see the beginnings. And I’m glad I am able to witness the little things that happen each day that we are able to share with all of you.