When you take care of chimpanzees in a sanctuary, your whole life revolves around trying to make them happy. You live for those moments when they are food squeaking over a good meal, or playing a wild game of chase around the outdoor enclosure. For some members of the Cle Elum Seven, we’ve begun to take these moments for granted. When does Missy not want to play chase? And is there ever a moment when Foxie is not playing with her troll dolls?
But for some chimps, its harder to tell when they are happy. Negra has one speed (slow) and a limited number of activities that she engages in (eat, sleep, groom, gaze out the window). Perhaps its due in part to her personality; some folks just live life at a different pace. But you can’t help but wonder how much of it is due to 35 years of confinement in a laboratory.
Determining what effect a lifetime of stress in the laboratory has on chimpanzees is currently the work of two researchers, Debra Durham and Hope Ferdowsian. Debra and Hope are conducting a large-scale study of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in ex-laboratory chimpanzees. This summer, we participated in interviews with the researchers to look for indications of PTSD in the Cle Elum Seven.
Debra recently penned an Op-Ed for the Orlando Sentinel (see Drawing Ourselves into the Lives of Chimpanzees), in which she comments on the improvements they have seen in Negra. And, as fate would have it, the article’s publication coincided nicely with this video we took of Negra playing with Missy right before Jamie’s birthday party. (My favorite part of the video? When Negra grabs both or Missy’s ears and shakes her head back and forth 🙂
Its not likely that Negra will ever be rambunctious like Missy, or acrobatic like Foxie. Usually, I take comfort in the fact that when Negra chooses to put a blanket over her head and stare out the window, at least she has a choice. But she does have her playful moments, and according to Debra and Hope’s research, she is still showing signs of improvement. So we can all look forward to seeing Negra pull Missy’s legs and ears more and more in the days to come.