Today Honey B turned 31! Since Honey B has so many different interests, we were excited to throw her first birthday party since arriving at Chimpanzee Sanctuary NW. The popcorn forage was a big hit, as was the special decaf coffee we served her at lunch, but we were most curious to see if she’d enjoy her new gifts. Spoiler alert, she did!
Here at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest, we take the physical health of our residents quite seriously.
Each day, the staff works as a team to make sure all of the essential tasks get done, and one necessary chore is the administration of medications to individual chimpanzees. Today, Chad was responsible for getting everyone their prescribed doses and recommended dietary supplements. Currently, we monitor conditions and treatments using paper forms that we then transcribe into a digital database. One of my ongoing projects is to coordinate our transition to a more modern system that allows us to record, discuss, warehouse, summarize and retrieve all of this information in a more centralized fashion. It’s a daunting endeavor, but I’m hopeful that it will enable us to be more efficient while continuing to provide the chimps with optimal health care.
Some of the chimps’ health concerns are chronic conditions that require long-term solutions. Burrito, for example, receives a daily cocktail of meds to manage his known heart condition. At other times, we may give chimpanzees short courses of anti-inflammatory or antibiotic drugs to help temporary wounds heal. It’s no secret that primates, even in the best conditions, occasionally have altercations that result in injury, so the number of individual chimps on meds waxes and wanes on a weekly basis. Right now, Jody and Foxie are being treated for unrelated, minor bite wounds located on each of their right feet. Jody’s injured foot is the same one that Dr. Erin investigated during her most recent trip to our on-site veterinary clinic. For the most part, though, the other chimps have been loyally serving as Jody’s primary “doctors” by keeping the site clean. Hygiene is almost always a group project for social primates such as chimpanzees, so it’s normal to see them tending to each other’s injuries as the lacerations and bruises slowly heal.
The cattle have also received some preventative health care lately. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with bovines, their feet are covered by cloven (two-toed) hooves. These structures are composed of keratin, just like claws and nails. The hooves of domestic cattle grow at a constant rate because their wild ancestors ranged across vast steppes and prairies; the constant travel across such rough substrate would gradually wear down their hooves if they didn’t offset the process with new growth.
Modern cattle, especially those inhabiting large-scale dairies and ranches, need their hooves trimmed regularly since they generally roam over shorter distances and softer terrain. The CSNW cattle have been exploring and grazing a variety of areas since they arrived, including the sanctuary’s expansive South Pasture, so they don’t need trims as frequently as other cows. Still, they need to have their feet checked and their hooves trimmed at least once a year (although we delayed this last trim due to the public health crisis). Overgrown hooves could lead to further problems, such as painful split nails, so we scheduled a professional hoof trimmer to take care of them this past week. He was excited to help out a sanctuary and was awed by Nutmeg’s massive frame. In the beef and dairy industries, steers like Nutmeg don’t live long enough to reach that size. He took a selfie with Nutmeg to show his friends and family, and the gigantic bovine seemed to make a new friend.
The trimming process is fascinating and, admittedly, a bit tense. The cattle have to be herded into a small corral and then led one-by-one down a chute into a tilt table. The tilt table firmly sandwiches them while they’re standing upright and then tips them on their side so that the trimmer can safely shave down the ends of their hooves. This step goes remarkably fast, though, and also gave Dr. Erin an opportunity to give the cattle their injectable annual vaccines. Within seconds, each cow is lowered back down and released. You’d think that they would be upset or afraid, but each of them seemed more interested in the trimmer’s truck and table apparatus. Nutmeg tried to sniff and lick everything, including the truck itself. Just minutes later, the cattle were already marching back to the pasture like nothing had happened.
Of course, health involves much more than medications and procedures. Over the past few decades, countless studies have supported that there are both tangible and intangible health benefits generated from having active lifestyles and enriching environments. Professionals in our field generally use the term enrichment to refer to puzzles, nesting materials, play structures, and other provisions that were once considered non-essential. More broadly, the term can be used to encompass anything and everything that contributes to the health and happiness of the chimpanzees. Burrito’s sanctuary experience, for example, is often enriched by rowdy play sessions in the Greenhouse. Foxie’s is enriched by a variety of dolls. Jamie’s is enriched by exposure to new footwear (and pictures of footwear arranged in a photo book, apparently).
That brings me to today’s video (embedded above). One of the caregivers on the Saturday shift (Diana? Kelsi? Anna? J.B.?) threw a roll of surplus raffle tickets into the enrichment baskets that were specially prepared for this morning. Maybe the idea was inspired by the ongoing virtual auction and upcoming Queen’s Brunch celebration. (Note: You can see the items up for auction > here <. Have you seen the print of Willy B that’s receiving bids? What a cool-looking dude…)
Whatever the case, the raffle tickets were a hit with Honey B, Mave and Willy B, and we all took a break from our chores to watch them roll around in the piles of torn paper. Staying healthy, after all, can’t be done purely through paperwork and pills. Sometimes it’s having fun (and watching chimpanzees have fun) that makes the biggest difference. Burrito knows this well.
Goofballs. Goobers. Dorks. Clowns. Weirdos. Free spirits.
Whatever you call them, there’s no doubt that Honey B, Mave and Willy B know how to have fun. We’ve been focusing so much lately on Willy B’s exciting forays “into the great outdoors” that I decided to share some clips of his group being playful and rowdy earlier today.
Please enjoy the video, everyone!
Chimpanzees are known for their ability to evaluate situations and find some pretty novel ways to handle the task at hand. Everyday, the chimpanzees are provided with numerous items throughout the day as enrichment. One of these items is a long, plastic tube. Jamie generally uses it to reach items just beyond her reach, or to groom the human caregivers. Burrito uses it to play tug-o-war. And every body uses it as a straw when we provide them with buckets of diluted Gatorade. At the end of each dinner service, we also provide the chimpanzees with nighttime food puzzles. The purpose of these puzzles is to exercise their cognitive functions, help promote natural behaviors, and to try to alleviate boredom. And every so often, they surprise us when two-and-two are put together.
Last night’s evening food puzzle were small PVC tubes. The purpose of this puzzle is to promote one of chimpanzees’ natural behaviors: fishing. In the wild, chimpanzees have been found to fish for termites, grubs, and honey. They will find a stick and modify it to suite the situation. They will adjust the length, girth, and the leaves depending on what they are fishing for, and where it is hidden. Here, caregivers put a smear of peanut butter, smashed fruit (bananas, avocados, etc) applesauce, or honey in PVC tubes for the chimpanzees to fish out. The chimpanzee’s are also provided a tool in the form of a chopstick. Some just use their fingers, while others use the chopstick they are provided. Last night, we were pretty amazed that Honey B decided she had an even better tool: the long plastic tube. It was so efficient, she waited patiently for Willy B and Mave (who were using chopsticks and fingers) to be done with theirs, collected them up, and got the peanut butter missed by both of them.
As mentioned before, the chimpanzees use these tubes as straws as well. Usually for buckets of diluted Gatorade or sometimes for their breakfast smoothie. Annie is one who is more likely to use a straw for her smoothie. That is, until caregiver Anthony witnessed her using the tube to siphon smoothie from Jamie’s cup as Jamie was drinking from it!
These chimpanzee people never cease to amaze and surprise us with their actions!
Lastly, an update on Jody. Jody was recovering so well and wanted nothing more to be back with her group, we decided she was well enough to be brought back into the group. She flew into the playroom and was greeted with a sincere hug by Annie.
Right now, I know that many folks are struggling to adjust to the new normal: a degree of social isolation, economic strife and general mistrust that rails against our innate drives to be together. No matter what we believe should be happening right now, I think it’s safe to say that most of us are frustrated, worried, and even exasperated. We want this to be over, but it won’t end.
Instead, we must look at our own lifestyles, identify the things that truly bring us fulfillment, and work to keep those fires lit even as boredom, anxiety, loneliness and grief do their best to snuff them out.
Amid this uncertain period of perpetual unease, one new development in particular is giving us all some inspiration: the methodical progress and unexpected bravery of Willy B.
I could sit here writing about this chapter of Willy B’s story for hours on end. Given the gradual adjustment of the three new chimpanzees to life at CSNW, punctuated by a couple heartbreaking setbacks, Willy’s recent exploits have given his tale the flavor of an odyssey. It’s now a epic saga of sorts, complete with a courageous, endearing and hairy little hero. Lately, he seems to be on a vague quest with a yet undetermined goal.
In recent weeks, I think that other staff have done an amazing job describing each step in his journey. If you’re looking to catch up, I suggest skimming the previous blog posts about Willy, the Courtyard, and the tall wooden structure that he is gradually conquering one ladder rung at a time. If you are really feeling ambitious, you could skip back to last June when we first announced that we would be welcoming three chimpanzees from the Wildlife Waystation, including a mysterious dominant male named Willy B.
Today, I’m focusing on one particular chapter describing one short event. It occurred over the span of an hour today in the Courtyard.
We’ve been setting food items in small caches throughout the Courtyard to entice Willy B and the others to explore. Gradually, Willy B’s bottomless appetite is leading him to venture into parts unknown. He recently made sporadic forays out onto the boardwalk until he determined that each section was safe. He then grew comfortable sitting at the end of the boardwalk and began to investigate the base of the multi-tiered wooden structure that it leads to. Last week, he climbed the tower, and he has been slowly acclimatizing to the new sensations of sitting on wood decking, perching high above the ground, and being able to see clear over the Chimp House. He’s made tremendous progress, but there are still areas of the Courtyard that he has yet to explore. For example, the structure has two thin spits of decking that jut out toward the rest of Young’s Hill. These pier-like extensions are connected by a web of twisted vines (“the ropes”) and a large hammock, all made from repurposed firehose.
Here is an old photo of caregiver Chad testing out the hammock after it was first made and hung inside the building. It was moved outdoors when we realized that the chimps didn’t seem interested unless we placed food on it.
Today, I placed a whole apple on the hammock. Willy B will do almost anything for an apple, but I wasn’t sure if he’d have the confidence to go after this one. He’s an athletic and intelligent individual with a bold personality, but he’s not as skilled at climbing as an adult chimpanzee should be.
Well, he tried. He tried hard.
First, he scouted the area.
Then, he tested whether the new sections of decking were safe to sit on. They were.
Suddenly, shockingly, Willy B dropped down below the decking and swung himself over towards the hammock.
He was so close. But then, with the visible apple just out of reach, he turned back. It seems that he wasn’t yet confident in his ability to make the final swing over to the hammock. From the safety of the decking, he surveyed the area from above a second time.
He dropped down again and swung back to the hammock, gripping the firehose vines with his chubby chimpanzee feet.
This wasn’t the right moment to try out the hammock, though. He backtracked all the way to the safest spot in the Courtyard at the base of the structure. There, he checked in on the neighbors, nibbled on a slice of tomato, and let out a muted display.
After expressing himself as only a chimpanzee can, he gave the ropes another try.
Again, he retreated and regrouped.
He mustered up the bravery and strength to make one more push. He got so close, but seemed hesitant to put any weight on the hammock and did not reach out to grab the apple.
Willy b even thought about lowering himself to the ground to find a new route over to the hammock, but he apparently decided the dirt and grass were too strange for today. He paused, suspended from the decking with his toes skimming the blades of grass, and then hoisted himself back up without ever planting his heels on the firm ground below.
Fortunately for Willy B, he gets several apples each day (along with many other nutritious foods). Importantly, he’ll get another shot at the elusive hammock apple for as many days as he needs. If he’s ambitious enough, he’ll conquer the ropes tomorrow just as he has so many other unusual obstacles in his path. We’re hopeful that he will eventually grow to enjoy climbing and exploring even without the promise of a shiny red apple to propel him forward, just as a chimpanzee should. Either way, I look forward to watching the saga continue.
Honey B’s excitement over paper is just one of the many things that endear us to her. If you’d like to buy more paper for more escapades, I just added some to our Amazon wish list.
I had to add in a little update at the end of the video about Willy B, of course. He’s getting more and more comfortable in that Courtyard!
Chimpanzees are intelligent, emotional, and complex. They deserve the utmost respect.
This is their home and their retirement, and it’s their right to be however they want to be. This fact makes me appreciate how chimpanzees can be not only relaxed but also downright goofy. When they group is in a playful mood, even the most stoic of chimps can be a total dork. For us caregivers, stopping to appreciate these weird moments helps to keeps things lighthearted and reminds us what this sanctuary thing is all about. It’s perfectly okay to laugh along with them.
In the past, we’ve highlighted some of the comical new behaviors that the chimpanzees invent in their spare time (e.g., Annie’s and Honey B’s waistbands, Willy B’s slinky moves, Missy’s choice of grooming tools, Mave’s toe socks and Jamie’s flamboyant scarves). Of course, none of these creations are purely spontaneous and random. Even the most innovative aspects of their behavior are influenced by both their current surroundings and past experiences.
Honey B’s behavior seems to be especially shaped by her previous and ongoing interactions with humans. As one of the more inquisitive and interactive chimpanzees at the sanctuary, she likes to be involved in whatever her caregivers are doing and seems to enjoy making us happy. It’s in her nature to be helpful. We try not to bother the chimps with unnecessary requests, but we do have to ask them for certain favors that help us caregivers to do our jobs. On a daily basis, for example, we ask the chimpanzees to shift from one enclosure to another so that we can safely go inside and clean up. They usually do this without any coaxing because there is something more interesting to do elsewhere. Sometimes, however, there are objects or materials blocking the hydraulic doors that prevent us from remotely operating them and therefore delay shifting. In those moments, we can usually ask a passing chimpanzee to kindly remove the obstruction. Honey B, however, exceeds the expectations.
A few weeks ago, the three chimps who live in the new wing were shifting out of the upstairs Mezzanine and into the new front rooms and chute on the ground floor. There was a tangled slinky that was preventing Kelsi from remotely shutting the door behind them. We asked Honey B to remove the toy, which by then resembled a bird’s nest, and she eagerly scrambled to disentangle the entire thing before tossing it through the open doorway. Then, for safe measure, Honey B collected nearby slinkies (which weren’t tangled and weren’t blocking the door) and chucked them downstairs as well.
In the following weeks, she has surprised us all by continuing to throw available enrichment items through doorways before they we close them. Every morning she flips the previous night’s blankets and night bags through the lower-level doors before heading up to the Mezzanine for breakfast, and she has even started to hurl larger toys down the incline of the chute and out into her group’s alcove of Young’s Hill (now known as “The Courtyard”). With the input of a few enthusiastic and amused volunteers, I have unofficially named this behavior The Chonk. I’m not sure how well this name fits the behavior since the term chonk is usually applied to overweight cats on the internet, but the sound of the word makes me chuckle. (Thanks, Elizabeth C!)
I would love to know exactly what Honey B is thinking as she yeets enrichment out onto the Hill, but I can only speculate. I sincerely hope that, whatever her motivation may be, that she’s having as much fun as I am.
Keep on chonkin’, Honey B.