Willy B has been exploring more of his modest kingdom.
In his quest for scattered grapes, he has taken his first tentative steps on grass and dirt and away from the safety and security of familiar objects and structures. At times he is bold.
Other times he is more cautious.
This morning he inspected the grass from the safety of a plastic tub, as though he was in a dinghy setting out from a larger vessel.
While he is still hesitant to step on grass, he no longer has any fear of being outdoors. In the nine years since we opened Young’s Hill, I can’t remember a single time that any of the Cle Elum Seven took a nap outside. They run and climb and swing, they forage and they hunt, they patrol and survey. They even relax at times. But they never nap outdoors.
According to Willy B, they don’t know what they’re missing.
One of the things I’ve been meaning to do for a while is to explain what our plans are for the sanctuary over the next couple of years, particularly as they relate to Willy B, Honey B, and Mave. I know it can be confusing. We had hoped to integrate our three new residents with the Cle Elum Seven, knowing that we could house them separately if it didn’t work out. As you know, it didn’t work out, so we are now following Plan B. As far as backup plans go, things are pretty good – but we have a lot of work ahead of us, and I hope to clarify how we intend to meet the needs of these three as well as those still to come.
Phase 1 – The First Step in our Expansion
The Californians, as many of our supporters call them, live in our new wing, which was the first part of a three-phase expansion plan. There are smaller indoor rooms on the first floor (Front Rooms), a larger room upstairs (The Mezzanine), and an arched tunnel that connects Front Room 5 to the outdoor area (The Chute).
When we reverted to Plan B, our first thought was to alternate access to the 2-acre outdoor area, Young’s Hill, between the Seven and the Californians until we could create a separate outdoor area. But we realized that having a smaller yard to themselves would be safer and less intimidating for the new guys as they adjusted to the outdoors, so we carved out a section of Young’s Hill just for Willy B, Honey B, and Mave. The Courtyard, as we call it, is a separate space but at this time it is only separated by a single fence so we don’t allow the two groups out at the same time.
Next Steps: Phases 2 and 3
Phases 2 and 3 of our expansion plans were developed in conjunction with Phase 1, but building enclosures for chimps requires a lot of money so we knew we would have to break the project up into manageable pieces. Phase 2 consists of a large indoor playroom, divided into two sections, with 20-foot ceilings, catwalks all around, and large tree-like climbing structures from floor to ceiling in the middle of each room. Phase 3 consists of a divided greenhouse enclosure, connected to the playrooms, with a mulch floor and removable polycarbonate panels on the roof and three sides to provide warmth and shelter during the winter months (just like our existing greenhouse for the Seven). Originally these additions were designed for one group, but we decided to enlarge and divide each area to give us more options. Now, when both phases are complete, we will not only have a larger home for Honey B, Willy B, and Mave, but we will also be able to take in another group of chimpanzees from the now defunct Wildlife Waystation. The groups could be integrated but the space will allow two groups to remain separate if needed.
Funds for Phase 2 were raised before the pandemic struck, so we are excited to be breaking ground this year, as soon as permits are issued, with the hope of seeing Honey B, Willy B, and Mave enjoy their added space by winter. To save on construction costs, we will also be completing the foundation, steel framing, and hallway of the Phase 3 greenhouses at the same time, with the caging and polycarbonate panels to be installed later once additional funds are raised – hopefully by next spring or summer.
Additional Outdoor Enclosures
One thing we have learned over the years, much to our frustration, is that plans change. Five years ago, we made the decision to work towards expanding the sanctuary so we could take in more chimps. But there have been so many twists and turns along the way that making plans has been like shooting at a moving target. Ultimately, we focused most of our attention on the initial stages and left a lot to be determined as events unfold. Like the outdoor areas, for example.
Now that the future of the sanctuary is coming into focus, we realize that our three new residents, and those still to come, need their own outdoor spaces. To accomplish this, we have decided to rebuild the fences to create an additional 2-acre fenced enclosure, tentatively named The Bray in memory of our dear friend and former board member, James Douglas. James’ wife, Jennifer, is a long-time friend, supporter, and volunteer. She is sponsoring a good part of this project and chose the name, which we love. “Brae” is the Celtic word for hillside and James hailed from Bray, Ireland.
Enlarging the total footprint of the enclosures was only made possible because we now own all of the surrounding parcels and we don’t have to worry about maintaining a large buffer by the property lines like we did when we built Young’s Hill. Still, we can’t infringe on the power line easement to the south of the building and the topography limits how far up the hill we can build fences so we are limited to these two large enclosures at this time.
But because we may end up with three separate groups in the end, we do plan to build a third outdoor area just west of the new addition, opposite the building from the fenced enclosures. This one, however, will be a more traditional closed-top design. Why? As I mentioned, space is certainly a factor, but we also find that some chimps, even after several years, are more comfortable in closed-top enclosures and make more use of them. Ultimately it’s about choices and flexibility. We want Honey B and Mave to join Willy B outside and we want to give them all the time in the world to make that decision for themselves. But it never hurts to have other options. Other chimps will benefit from the option as well, as groups can be rotated throughout the facility to experience different enclosures.
The sudden closure of the Wildlife Waystation has focused our efforts as well as our resolve to expand. Like other sanctuaries, we will always struggle to find the right balance between providing what is best for our residents and responding promptly to crises like this. At times it feels like we are too cautious, but we know that our primary responsibility is to those already in our care. With the future of the remaining Waystation chimps uncertain, we are working as hard as we can to complete this expansion project so that we can welcome more chimpanzees to Willy B’s kingdom.