A few months ago, a behaviorist at Chimp Haven wrote an enlightening blog post about the terminology that their staff uses when communicating with each other. They titled their post “How to Speak Caregiver” and used it to explain some of the stranger aspects of their shared vocabulary.
In general, the sanctuary community is full of variation that could be referred to as culture (if you subscribe to those kinds of labels, ha ha ha ha..). Just as chimpanzees exchange learned behaviors with others in their social network, so do sanctuary caregivers. This leads to distinct cultural differences between organizations. As existing personnel teach valuable skills to newcomers, for example, quirky behaviors and traditions often tag along. Some of these variants have become ubiquitous in the animal care industry, while other newer traditions are more common among sanctuaries than they are in other institutions. Due to decades of gradual exchange among facilities, the terminology at CSNW is largely consistent with that used elsewhere (e.g., “shifting”) despite some minor differences (e.g., Chimp Haven’s “wad” vs. our “wadge“).
The most fun and interesting of our vocabulary terms, in my opinion, are those that refer to novel innovations and are therefore unique to CSNW. The following post highlights some of my favorite items in our local “dialect” of the caregiver “language” (accompanied by photographs taken by our staff). Some of our regular blog readers may be familiar with these terms, while others may not. It is my pleasure to enlighten you all.
A collection of several plastic dolls (usually Troll Dolls but sometimes Dora the Explorer ones, too) that are tied into a wearable cloth item for enrichment purposes. The chimpanzees sometimes adorn themselves by throwing the scarves over their shoulder. This behavior, called draping, is also practiced by chimpanzees living in the wild. Without caregivers to provision them with troll scarves, free-ranging chimpanzees tend to use animal pelts (sometimes from monkeys that they’ve hunted) or leafy vines that they gather in the forest. Honey B, meanwhile, hasn’t caught onto the scarf phenomenon and prefers to wear unusual donated items such as sweaters and aprons.
The chimpanzees’ expansive outdoor habitat. Often referred to as The Hill, the 2-acre enclosure is named after supporters Don and Karen Young (who generously sponsored its construction). It was completed in 2011, although there have been numerous upgrades over the years. The perimeter of the enclosure consists of two rows of tall wooden posts lined with electrified wires to securely contain the chimpanzees. The fencing surrounds a hillside meadow that now features numerous man-made structures for the chimpanzees to climb on. Many of these landmarks each have their own names and stories (e.g., The Treat Rock, The Twister, The Escher, Negra’s Cabin, The Shaky Bridge, The Courtyard, and more). My favorite aspect of Young’s Hill is the panoramic view of the surrounding pastures, riparian wetlands and evergreen forests.
An exhilarating activity in which a human drives the John Deere Gator (our small farm vehicle) around the outside perimeter of Young’s Hill while one or more chimpanzees sprint around the interior boundary, seemingly trying to compete against us in a race. Missy is the fastest of the chimpanzees and has a habit of sprinting way ahead of the Gator (and the other chimps), leaving everyone in the proverbial dust. Jamie likes to hype herself up while the engine idles by standing bipedally and clapping before charging forward for short bursts. Gator Races are generally more interesting when the caregiver is wearing some rad footwear.
A brown paper bag filled with small amounts of dry foods served to the chimpanzees at the end of the day. These are not only nutritious and tasty; they also stimulate the chimps’ natural tendency to selectively process foods and keep them occupied while we caregivers do evening chores. The most popular ingredients are dehydrated fruit, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, popcorn, and sunflower seeds.
Going for a Walk
The act of strolling the perimeter of Young’s Hill alongside Jamie. Other chimpanzees sometimes join the caravan, but Jamie often does this activity alone. Jamie and her companions seem to do this for several reasons, the foremost of which is to patrol the boundary of the group’s territory. Free-living chimpanzees conduct regular patrols to survey their home range and wage war on neighboring groups. The walks also seem to serve as exercise for the CSNW chimps and help them to maintain a set daily routine. The walks also seem to have a prosocial purpose since Jamie will frequently use gestures to request that caregivers join her. Jamie is also a footwear enthusiast and appreciates patrolling with people who are sporting new and/or interesting boots.
The Chimp House
The sanctuary’s main building that currently houses all of the chimpanzees. The original structure consisted of five enclosures (four front rooms and a playroom) as well as a small area for human activities. The Greenhouse enclosure was added shortly after the chimpanzees arrived and was followed by a connection to Young’s Hill in 2011. The first phase of a major expansion was completed in 2019 and gave us humans a foyer, bathroom, laundry room and vet clinic. Notably, it also included five new enclosures (three new front rooms, the Mezzanine and the outdoor chute) that enabled us to provide a home for another group of chimpanzees. The second phase of the expansion will include additional playrooms and greenhouses, hopefully allowing us to take in more chimps!
A short length of plastic hose material used by the chimpanzees to manipulate the environment outside the caging. We keep a quiver of these (yes, it’s literally a quiver made of recycled firehose) in the enrichment storage area because they are an important, popular and safe item for the chimpanzees to have. Jamie, for example, uses them to prod and inspect footwear as the humans are wearing it. We wouldn’t want her to be grabbing anyone’s clothes or accessories with her fingers, so the plastic grooming tool is employed as a substitute. These grooming tools can also be used as fishing poles (for retrieving items that have fallen into the hallway just outside the enclosure) and as drinking straws (for taking sips or gulps of smoothie and juice). Other sanctuaries use instruments such as wooden spoons or bamboo sticks for similar purposes. At a few sanctuaries, caregivers call them “tickle sticks” (phrasing!).
The Foot Box
A small cubby that allows us to take radiographs (x-ray images) of chimpanzee feet and hands. J.B. conceived this idea last year during Burrito’s painstaking recovery and fabricated the steel frame in his garage later that afternoon. Now that the box is securely installed, the chimps are learning to place their extremities inside of it and remain still. Once the chimps voluntarily do this, we can acquire high-quality radiographs that can inform how we manage injuries and conditions. At first, Foxie used the Foot Box to store her dolls and Jamie was seen putting a wooden toy in there. In the past couple of weeks, however, the Foot Box has begun to serve its original purpose. Jody has cooperated with us by voluntarily placing her injured foot into the box and holding it there like a true champion. Today, we were able to send detailed images to Dr. Erin without having to immobilize, sedate or restrain Jody in any way. Also, if you haven’t seen it yet, J.B. and Diana’s x-rayed troll doll may be one of my favorite images in the entire history of the sanctuary. That’s why they make the big bucks.
If you can think of any other jargon that you’d like explained, feel free to comment here or on the corresponding Facebook post!
P.S. I owe a huge deal of gratitude to Chimp Haven’s Jordan Green for writing the original blog post that inspired me.