This post was going to be about Rayne and Honey B and what a fantastic duo they are. When they are doing their mall walking in the morning, I can hardly tell them apart. Rayne seeks out the more aloof Honey B for interactions all the time, and has even been joining her and Willy B in the front rooms at night as they bed down.
I captured a few photos of Rayne grooming Honey B today in the sunny front rooms and then converted them to black and white.
These photos are of a touching moment between two half-sisters who were recently united at the sanctuary. When I was watching them interact and taking these photos with the thought of being able to share this moment, my heart was bursting with joy. I’m so glad Honey B has Rayne now, and I’m so glad Rayne has Honey B. It wasn’t easy to get to this moment, but this is what sanctuary is all about.
Then I looked at the photos again. I asked myself how they would be perceived by people who don’t know this touching backstory or maybe don’t know anything at all about Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest. What would they see?
We all jump to opinions, myself very much included in that “we”. This tendency often serves us well because we can make incredibly quick judgements that help us avoid harm and allow us to make sense of the world. This ability to quickly assess our surroundings and form judgements, despite its advantages, may just be at the root of all of our societal problems. And there’s no clearer window into that than on social media. We can see a single image and jump to so many conclusions in an instant, even if we have practically no knowledge or real understanding of what we are looking at or what the overall context is.
This has been on my mind for a long time. I know that sanctuaries, us included, censor and filter the images and information that we share about the places where we work. For one, we don’t always trust that “the general public” will take the extra time to gain more information or to consider that they don’t know as much as they think they do about the realities of life in a sanctuary.
For the vast majority of you who are reading this, you get it more than the average person. You’re curious, and maybe you’ve been reading this blog for a bit so you have the broader context. The feelings that arise when you look at images of the chimps comes from that knowledge. But when we post something on social media, it can go out to a bunch of people that don’t have that same knowledge.
Here at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest, we made the decision to try not to filter too much. We show all of the spaces of the sanctuary, knowing that when we share a video of the chimps in the front rooms people will say, “that is not a sanctuary because the chimps are in cages.” It’s not the first time I’ve written about this. See here and here.
We value transparency and truth, and we try to sprinkle in the tough stuff in between all the fun and polish. But I think we still fall short. We want to make sure our “brand” is positive and uplifting and shows the stark contrast between “before” and “now.” We have learned through comments what fulfills people’s expectations about sanctuaries, what they respond positively to, and what raises concerns or confusion; this learning process inevitably influences what we share.
It worries me.
I know that other sanctuaries avoid certain subjects altogether, or never allow public photos of certain parts of their facilities. I absolutely understand this. No one wants to spend their evening, after posting a beautiful photo, answering questions that come from ignorance, like “why are you torturing that poor creature. She should be free.” No one wants the place they love and are proud of to suddenly be the target of a social media mob. There are people out there who have zero qualms about fabricating or deeply twisting things, and some of them are able to convince others of their stories.
The problem is, by not sharing more, we sanctuaries are perpetuating the ignorance and the overly idyllic view of what a sanctuary “should” be. I fear that this cycle is getting worse. I don’t know exactly what the answer is. The truth is that it can be difficult to discern a good sanctuary from a terrible facility. A good sanctuary will make occasional mistakes (it turns out sanctuaries are run by humans, and humans are fallible). Plus, standards change over time (thank goodness).
There’s a whole heck of a lot of nuance when making judgements about a sanctuary or any facility caring for others, and people these days don’t seem to be very good at nuance. We don’t want to hear about grey areas. We want to form an opinion.
If one is truly attempting to ascertain the relative “goodness” of a sanctuary, one place to start is looking for oversight. For example, we voluntarily have a USDA license and are accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. This is a start, but there are always going to be issues with the standards used to evaluate facilities, the subjective judgements of the humans doing the evaluating, and the decision whether to seek accreditation or not.
I will be sharing the updated interview I did with Jen Feuerstein about the group integration process, and we get into some of the realities of the challenges of caring for chimpanzees in captivity and the incredibly difficult choices that are made in the hopes that their lives can be improved. I promise we’ll share more on other difficult subjects in the future.
In the meantime, here are some more carefully-curated photos of Rayne and Honey B today 😉