Winter here on the eastern slopes of the Cascades can be difficult. We go to work in the dark and return home in the same. The wind stings, the cold air bites. Thick mats of snow and ice cover the landscape. Wintry conditions turn scenic drives across the mountain passes into foggy, wet, anxiety-inducing ordeals.
Yet, we carry on.
We play in the snow with friends, take our vitamin D supplements, struggle to keep our houseplants alive, finally read the books we bought in a frenzy over the summer, stay in touch with friends and family, exercise in some loud building under fluorescent lighting, and make the most of the relatively warm days when we get them.
Eventually, the days start feeling longer again. The wind stings a little less, the temperatures rise a little. The snow melts to reveal the wet dirt underneath. We begin to make plans for the coming weeks without worries of getting stranded, spinning out, or missing a flight. One day at a time. Suddenly, we find ourselves standing in an elk-trodden meadow of balsamroot and lupine watching the spring thunderstorms roll by.
From last week into this past weekend, the chimpanzees have had quite a bit of drama and it’s been a challenge to navigate. But, as Diana and Jenna pointed out in their respective blog posts, there has also been a lot of rest, recovery, and reconciliation going on. Chimps are great at filling the intervals between conflicts with productive, calming activities: building nests, grooming companions, playing chase with caregivers, foraging on some greens you found on the Hill, etc. Perhaps the best way to get you and your loved ones through hard times is just to give someone a breathy pant, eat an icicle, pile up some blankets, take a nap, and move forward. As someone told me recently, why worry about the whole necklace when you can just keep putting beads on the string?
Cy’s group, the chimpanzees who have been fighting the most frequently lately, have actually been relatively peaceful for much of their tenure as an integrated social group. It wasn’t always that way; we can all remember last spring when their union was so new and fragile that we gave them nonstop supervision, around the clock, for weeks on end. If you had visited me in the foyer one of those nights and told me those new relationships would continue to grow and thrive for six months before enduring a rough patch like this one, I would have been ecstatic.
Yes, there are tough times that seem like they will never end…
…but they always do.
The distant glow of sunrise over the Chimp House front entrance at 4:44am on June 23, 2022. It wasn’t an unusually important day, but I have this photo from my overnight shift that I have never posted here before. I looked back at my notes from that morning. The chimps slept relatively peacefully after a string of tumultuous nights.
Dr. Erin watching the chimpanzees via the security cameras:
Gordo taking a moment to relax today in the playroom:
The hallway between the Lupine and Marmot Mountain playrooms after a day of cleaning:
Jamie peering down from atop a platform (where she had made a humongous nest):
The shovel that now lives outside the greenhouse door (which keeps getting blocked in with ice).
Linda C says
You know, Anthony, it’s funny, but even though I’m a bigger baby with the cold now than when I was younger and living in the Midwest, it seems like in the last few years, that time when darkness falls at 4:30 seems to speed by. But then, I didn’t have to go into work for a few weeks in Dec and Jan, so that probably helped. We always get through it.
Man, that fight must have been a doozy, bc you’re still talking about it 3 days later!
Hang in there, and thanks for the pic of Sr Gordito–he always looks so contented!
It was definitely more intense than usual but fortunately nobody was substantially injured. They’re doing better now!
And yes, I love Gordo’s little smirk! 🙂
Nancy Duryea says
Anthony, I like your suggestions for getting through hard times! I also love the picture of the front entrance to the Chimp House, very warm and inviting.
I believe I read that Honey B was not involved in the drama..thats my good girl?
I’m glad you enjoyed the images!
Yes, everyone reported that Honey B was trying to keep the peace while conflicts erupted elsewhere. That’s one of the most remarkable things about chimps; even when chaos breaks out, they often turn their attention to maintaining their friendships with others, new and old alike. We’ve all grown quite proud of Honey B’s social skills during this whole integration process.
Anthony, you lift up my heart with your insiteful words. ?Thank you all for giving of yourselves in these harsh winter days& nights & you all push forward to bring peace& joy to “your house of chimpanzees”. Gordo has such a happy face,I have to laugh @ Jamie- nothing like a cozy overstuffed bed to dream on.
Thank you, Nancy!
Susan Kathleen Feeley says
Anthony, you are such an inspiration! I particularly loved what you said about “beads on a necklace “.I admire you and all the teams at the sanctuary in the harsh freezing weather, and you never let anything get you down. you are there for the chimps and all the other beautiful residents. Thank you and travel safely. Best wishes, Susan
I can’t take credit for that one, Susan! I can only say that I’m glad you liked it.
Thank you for the warm wishes and all your support!
Knowing that you tape around the clock, you must have some idea of the trigger when all the ruckus kicked in…… blankets, space, food, possibly something out in the yard playground….?
One of the Chimps must have taken exception to the activities of another…….what objectionable happenings causes them to have such a reaction…? and, most importantly, is it a repetitive starting point…?
My work places me in an analyst role on parents and children, with whom I work on a daily basis, in their legal issues and relationships….
There are no shortcuts to the understanding of these issues………..
We definitely wish we could know more and I know that some behaviorists take an applied behavior analysis approach to solving captive welfare issues. Teasing apart the intricacies of a chimpanzee conflict is extremely difficult, though. For one thing, a feuding group may have seemingly random bouts of aggression, with no apparent contextual patterns. The security cameras are great at showing us where the chimps are and when they’re having a conflict, but it’s difficult to ascertain more subtle behaviors like facial expressions, hand gestures, and quieter vocalizations. Most of the conflicts only become apparent when an individual “instigates” by displaying loudly or screaming at another, but there obviously could be deeper motivation behind those behaviors besides whatever occurred in the previous seconds. Chimpanzees are also susceptible to emotional contagion, so the trigger for a conflict may even be the perception of danger elsewhere. It’s very interesting to think of these events analytically and we should definitely experiment with new approaches, but it’s also very difficult to do in such a dynamic environment with so many chimps.
Thanks for bringing this up, Tom!
Hi Anthony, I must admit, I’m curious about the conflicts. You mentioned that things have been going well for six months (can’t believe it’s been that long) for the new group, do you think they just reached their tipping point? Have there been small ongoing, unrelated scuffles or more of a power play between specific individuals? And, are the squabbles related to whatever sparked the fight earlier that landed poor Willy B in the clinic? After three posts on the topic, I can’t help myself, I had to ask.
Perhaps the Californians feel like many of us when it comes to wintery months. The stinging winds, biting cold, stormy conditions, short daylight hours, all create frustration and symptoms of cabin fever. Whatever the reasons (and I’m guessing you may never know), I hope everything works out.
Those are all great questions, Kathleen. To be honest, we don’t really know. We see the water boiling over the rim but can’t possibly know what’s causing the pot to heat up. It seems like Willy’s occasionally brutish behavior relates to some tension with other chimpanzees, but this hasn’t completely prevented him from making new friends either. Most of the conflicts seem to be related to either Gordo, Terry and/or Willy B, so we suspect there may be some discord among the males. Cy does a good job policing the conflicts and nobody seems to be challenging him directly. As for Willy’s trip to the clinic a few months(?) ago, it’s impossible to say if the events are related. Chimps have great memories but are also professionals at reconcilation and consolation.
The good news is that the past few days have been much calmer and things seem to be settling.
How committed to venture in those conditions every day….. what a brave and wonderful staff …..so beautiful out there….. I love your little bubble with the chair…. I might have to look into one:grin:
The “Igloo” was really great during the colder months but we found it wasn’t as resistant to the strong winds of central Washington as we had hoped! It’s a really cool concept though. It gave our staff a place to take quiet breaks without having to worry about the strict COVID-19 protocols inside the Chimp House.