People who have been incarcerated for long periods can have trouble adapting to life outside prison once they are released, a phenomenon we call institutionalization. Chimps are no different.
For the Cle Elum Seven, life in the lab was horrible, but after as much as 35 years it made some kind of sense. The deprivation they endured flipped the world on its head – metal and concrete were familiar and comforting, while grass and open sky would become sources of discomfort and fear. It’s perverse, that these chimpanzees should have to learn to adapt to what was their birthright.
It’s tempting to think of reaching sanctuary as the end of a harrowing journey, but it is only a step in the process. When the chimps first set foot on Young’s Hill, they were scared. The world outside was big and unknown. Eventually, their fear became exhilaration as they explored their new territory. More and more now I think we see in them something akin to appreciation or even reverence for the outdoors.
This process of adaptation continues and will likely never be complete. I think these chimps see themselves as visitors to the outdoors. It’s not their home. They take what they need before returning to the familiar surroundings of their indoor enclosures. But they are each adapting in their own way, and in their own time.
Just look how far they’ve come.