A question we’re often asked is how the chimpanzees communicate to us when they want something specific. Of course, each of the chimpanzees has their own way of getting the attention of their caregivers and expressing what they want, and really, the biggest indicator is just knowing the context in which they are asking. As I type this, Burrito is at the playroom door blowing raspberries (Bronx cheers) which given this moment’s context means, “Hey, Chad! Get in here and play with me!”
Raspberries (Bronx cheers) are a common form of communication for Foxie as well. On my chimp house days it’s not uncommon to have Chad or Anthony radio me to let me know that Foxie is calling me (blowing raspberries). She knows I’m around somewhere or hears my voice, and maybe she wants to play, or maybe I have one of her dolls she passed to me earlier and she wants them back. Sometimes I go in and she will merely stick her fingers out of the caging and wiggle them, just checking in, saying “Hi”. I mean, pretty endearing, right?
But Foxie also uses her dolls to connect in the quietest of ways, when you least expect it. I was walking past the greenhouse the other day where some of the chimpanzees were relaxing. The panels are still on so I couldn’t see who was in there from the outside, but just as I turned the corner I heard the faintest sound of something dropping to the ground. When I looked down, there was Foxie’s tiny troll doll she had dropped under the panel because she knew I was passing by. Not another sound was heard, but that was Foxie speak for, “Hello”.
Taking a few more steps I heard another soft “plink” and looked to see Strawberry Shortcake on the ground outside the raceway to Young’s Hill.
Foxie was nowhere in sight, but once I picked up her trail of dolls I saw the tiniest hand reaching around the corner of the caging, fingers wiggling, more Foxie lingo for “I was just saying hi and I’ll take those back now.”
The phantom doll drop is often something Foxie does at night from her resting place in the loft as well. With everyone curled into their night nests, I’ll be taking a last walk through the chimp house, turning out lights as I go, saying goodnight in both chimpanzee (nest grunts) and English, and I will hear the familiar, heart-swelling, ever-so-soft drop of a doll landing on the ground behind me only to look up and see Foxie’s fingers or toes sticking out of the caging above, wiggling “Goodnight”. Or sometimes, impossibly, asking you to just toss them back into her hand from below without even being to see you! (Apologies for the poor, old photo, but it’s all I could find to give you an idea of what this looks like from below).
It’s an incredible privilege to know the chimpanzees well enough that we are part of the ebb and flow of their daily conversations and communications, but more so, after all they’ve been through in their lives, it’s immensely fulfilling to know they get to experience being genuinely heard and understood as the individuals they are, and that their unique choices and needs are met, their unique expressions valued. There’s so much beauty in the myriad of ways in which we can connect with those we share our lives with. There’s so much beauty in sanctuary.
And here’s a bonus photo because I can’t get over these views from the new playroom. You have to really look, but Mave is in the top of the chute in a sun puddle and Willy B is out on the walkway in their courtyard. Such a gorgeous afternoon!