September 20, 2011 was a big day for the chimpanzees at the sanctuary. On that day, a physical door opened for the first time, but the door was also a symbol. The physical door allowed the chimpanzees onto the two-acre habitat that we call Young’s Hill, named after donors Karen and Don Young. It’s opening symbolized the greatest measure of freedom than the chimpanzees had possibly ever experienced.
Freedom, wide-open spaces, nothing overhead, and being out in the elements came with a palpable amount of fear, along with the incredible excitement that the chimpanzees and the humans watching them were all feeling.
All of the chimpanzees went onto the hill that day. But in the days and weeks following, some of them were hesitant to venture out again. Their fears and uncertainty got the best of them. Jody and Foxie, as you’ll see in the October, 2011 video below, needed a little encouragement from Jamie even two weeks after the hill was available to them on a daily basis.
Jody and Foxie have both found their courage and now often seem nonchalant on the hill these days. But it’s still a different space than the familiar safety of walls and bars. The hill is nature – it transforms on a daily basis with the weather and the cycles of life that are constantly in play. It’s less predictable. When there’s snow on the ground like there is now, it can present very real physical challenges getting from one place to another.
Today I watched Jody traverse the snow-covered hill with grace, following and sometimes even leading her friends. Jody is a different chimpanzee than the Jody I met in 2008 and even the Jody that I knew last year.
I happened by a quote attributed to Nelson Mandela that I believe speaks to Jody’s continually evolving bravery. I changed it slightly:
Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave are not those who do not feel afraid, but those who conquer that fear.
Today’s bravery award goes to Jody.