For us chimpanzee caregivers, climbing on the wooden towers and platforms of Young’s Hill is almost as fun as watching the chimps do it themselves. Elevation, exercise and nature- That’s my style of social distancing.
Maybe I shouldn’t assume that the rest of the team enjoys it as much as I do. However, there is certainly something liberating about standing high above the Chimp House and looking over the surrounding farmland at the evergreen-covered hillsides of Upper Kittitas County. From this epic vantage, I get the same perspectives as the red-tailed hawks that circle over the valley and the bald eagles that watch over the Yakima River below. As Chad and I recently discussed while doing chores around the sanctuary (because we’re nerds who talk about animal welfare issues), several animal care guidelines now acknowledge that having surroundings that are aesthetically enriching can positively influence individual well-being. I wholeheartedly agree, and I’m proud that this sanctuary gives chimpanzees the opportunity to have such a dynamic sensory experience. It’s impossible to quantify the enrichment value of warm breezes, bright sunshine and green grass (what is enrichment, anyway?), but it would be naive to think that the chimpanzees don’t appreciate having these experiences in their lives.
With all that being said, the Hill isn’t just for looks. It is also incredibly useful for allowing the chimpanzees to spread out, survey the landscape, and exercise. Because of this, we often do “forages” on Young’s Hill (like yesterday’s, for example). Today’s was a special one, though, because the official enrichment theme was “Picnic Day.” The chimpanzees received an eclectic mix of checkered blankets and plastic drinking vessels alongside their usual provisions and toys. Of course, the most enjoyable part of the picnic experience seemed to be the food itself. First, Katelyn chopped up baby iceberg lettuce, red bell peppers, fresh cucumbers and vine tomatoes. Then, Chad and I walked around the Hill, placing and hiding small caches of food on each structure and landmark. The chimpanzees then had all afternoon to search for hidden food and take in the breathtaking scenery.
I had prepared a video to show you all how it went, but this rural internet is abysmal right now; according to the current upload speed, it will be hours before it is ready to watch. Instead, I will have to show you some photographs of Negra that Chad captured today.
I’m not making any guarantees, but I will try to get the other video out sometime in the next week or two! 🙂
P.S. For those of you reading and following along, please continue to use caution, practice thorough social distancing, and take care of each other by taking care of yourselves! I’m wishing all the best for you and yours.