Right now, I know that many folks are struggling to adjust to the new normal: a degree of social isolation, economic strife and general mistrust that rails against our innate drives to be together. No matter what we believe should be happening right now, I think it’s safe to say that most of us are frustrated, worried, and even exasperated. We want this to be over, but it won’t end.
Instead, we must look at our own lifestyles, identify the things that truly bring us fulfillment, and work to keep those fires lit even as boredom, anxiety, loneliness and grief do their best to snuff them out.
Amid this uncertain period of perpetual unease, one new development in particular is giving us all some inspiration: the methodical progress and unexpected bravery of Willy B.
I could sit here writing about this chapter of Willy B’s story for hours on end. Given the gradual adjustment of the three new chimpanzees to life at CSNW, punctuated by a couple heartbreaking setbacks, Willy’s recent exploits have given his tale the flavor of an odyssey. It’s now a epic saga of sorts, complete with a courageous, endearing and hairy little hero. Lately, he seems to be on a vague quest with a yet undetermined goal.
In recent weeks, I think that other staff have done an amazing job describing each step in his journey. If you’re looking to catch up, I suggest skimming the previous blog posts about Willy, the Courtyard, and the tall wooden structure that he is gradually conquering one ladder rung at a time. If you are really feeling ambitious, you could skip back to last June when we first announced that we would be welcoming three chimpanzees from the Wildlife Waystation, including a mysterious dominant male named Willy B.
Today, I’m focusing on one particular chapter describing one short event. It occurred over the span of an hour today in the Courtyard.
We’ve been setting food items in small caches throughout the Courtyard to entice Willy B and the others to explore. Gradually, Willy B’s bottomless appetite is leading him to venture into parts unknown. He recently made sporadic forays out onto the boardwalk until he determined that each section was safe. He then grew comfortable sitting at the end of the boardwalk and began to investigate the base of the multi-tiered wooden structure that it leads to. Last week, he climbed the tower, and he has been slowly acclimatizing to the new sensations of sitting on wood decking, perching high above the ground, and being able to see clear over the Chimp House. He’s made tremendous progress, but there are still areas of the Courtyard that he has yet to explore. For example, the structure has two thin spits of decking that jut out toward the rest of Young’s Hill. These pier-like extensions are connected by a web of twisted vines (“the ropes”) and a large hammock, all made from repurposed firehose.
Here is an old photo of caregiver Chad testing out the hammock after it was first made and hung inside the building. It was moved outdoors when we realized that the chimps didn’t seem interested unless we placed food on it.
Today, I placed a whole apple on the hammock. Willy B will do almost anything for an apple, but I wasn’t sure if he’d have the confidence to go after this one. He’s an athletic and intelligent individual with a bold personality, but he’s not as skilled at climbing as an adult chimpanzee should be.
Well, he tried. He tried hard.
First, he scouted the area.
Then, he tested whether the new sections of decking were safe to sit on. They were.
Suddenly, shockingly, Willy B dropped down below the decking and swung himself over towards the hammock.
He was so close. But then, with the visible apple just out of reach, he turned back. It seems that he wasn’t yet confident in his ability to make the final swing over to the hammock. From the safety of the decking, he surveyed the area from above a second time.
He dropped down again and swung back to the hammock, gripping the firehose vines with his chubby chimpanzee feet.
This wasn’t the right moment to try out the hammock, though. He backtracked all the way to the safest spot in the Courtyard at the base of the structure. There, he checked in on the neighbors, nibbled on a slice of tomato, and let out a muted display.
After expressing himself as only a chimpanzee can, he gave the ropes another try.
Again, he retreated and regrouped.
He mustered up the bravery and strength to make one more push. He got so close, but seemed hesitant to put any weight on the hammock and did not reach out to grab the apple.
Willy b even thought about lowering himself to the ground to find a new route over to the hammock, but he apparently decided the dirt and grass were too strange for today. He paused, suspended from the decking with his toes skimming the blades of grass, and then hoisted himself back up without ever planting his heels on the firm ground below.
Fortunately for Willy B, he gets several apples each day (along with many other nutritious foods). Importantly, he’ll get another shot at the elusive hammock apple for as many days as he needs. If he’s ambitious enough, he’ll conquer the ropes tomorrow just as he has so many other unusual obstacles in his path. We’re hopeful that he will eventually grow to enjoy climbing and exploring even without the promise of a shiny red apple to propel him forward, just as a chimpanzee should. Either way, I look forward to watching the saga continue.