Willy B never seems to tire of playing with his slinky.
That may have come out wrong.
“Write Your Own Blog Post” is actually today’s theme. I wasn’t snapping. I promise.
Think of today’s entry like you would a self-serve car wash or one of those places where you can put whatever topping you want on your fro-yo. I literally want you to view this collection of images that I captured at the sanctuary today and use your imagination to fill in the blanks. The blog is in your hands.
The chimps, cattle and humans had a great day, but we caregivers didn’t have much time to write about it. I wasn’t lacking inspiration, especially since I had some thought-provoking conversations with caregiver Chad and volunteer/professor/board member Jessica as we swept, scrubbed, and served well into the afternoon. None of those thoughts found their way onto the page, though. Sometimes, a few snapshots say more than several paragraphs would, and I hope that is the case this evening.
I’m about to have a late-night bagel, go make a gigantic blanket nest and sleep until tomorrow morning.
Cheers from snowy Cle Elum!
Winter in the Pacific Northwest can be difficult to handle.
The landscape becomes dark, cold, and icy for several months. It’s beautiful in many ways, but it’s also challenging. In order to subsist in these surroundings, our team must make the necessary preparations and maintain a positive attitude about whatever the skies throw down on us. To visualize this, imagine how caregiver Chad and volunteer Fritz looked as they returned to the Chimp House this afternoon, soaking wet and freezing after driving through the blinding snow to feed the cattle and muck the barn. Of course, they laughed about it. Those smiles, paired with the appropriate clothing and equipment, ensure that we will make it to the spring in one piece.
As sanctuary personnel, our motive is to make sure the chimpanzees experience the wonders of the winter season without being subjected to its harsh conditions. Unfortunately, some inconveniences are unavoidable (e.g., Young’s Hill is buried under a foot of snow at the moment), but the chimpanzees can still choose to go outside and harvest snow or hang out inside on the heated floors. For some, an ideal day is spent in the loft of the Playroom, nibbling on roasted vegetables while submerged in a sea of blankets. This year’s new arrivals, for example, don’t seem enthused by the snowy surroundings just yet. For others, nothing seems better than darting outside, shoveling fresh snow into their chimpy mouths, and succumbing to the imminent brain freeze. To each their own, I guess.
We’ll continue to update everyone on the humors of the chimps through this ongoing winter snowstorm. Many of you are probably anxious for news about Burrito, but he has been bright and energetic for the last few days. You would never guess that he just had a toe amputated except he is still covered in distraction tape (and missing a toe).
You can all rest assured that the chimps are cozy and occupied, and the humans are having some fun, too.
Stay warm and safe, everyone!
I’m happy to report that our patient is doing very well. He’s taking his meds without too much cajoling, leaving his bandage on, and even playing with his caregivers. This last procedure doesn’t seem to have phased him much at all. It may even feel like a relief.
Typically, chimps in recovery require lots of distraction techniques to keep them from removing bandages and picking at their sutures. You can’t just stick a cone on a chimpanzee, so instead we stick random pieces of surgical tape all over their bodies and occasionally add “distraction sutures”, which are shallow absorbable sutures that the chimps can focus on without causing any harm to the actual incision. Overwhelm them with things to pick at and just maybe they won’t pick at the one that matters. At least not right away.
But none of this was necessary, because we woke up to a couple inches of snow this morning and it’s all Burrito can think about. Snow balls. Buckets of snow. Snow drizzled with juice. I don’t remember him being this crazy for snow in winters past, but it is a welcome distraction right now.
Over the last few days, we have been arranging play dates for Burrito. He still has a stubborn, slow-healing injury on his toe that needs to resolve before he can rejoin the rowdy gang of girls (who are in the midst of a thunderous group display directed at their three neighbors as a write this). But we felt he could safely handle some one-on-one visits, and we knew it would do him a world of good.
Jamie (shown grooming Burrito in this series) and Jody have been tending to both his wounds and his spirits. They’ve groomed his injuries and engaged him in slow games of chase throughout the front rooms. Just minutes ago, Jody and Burrito were gently wrestling and laughing so hard I could hear them from the foyer.
They say that laughter is the best medicine but we’re not going to give up on the antibiotics just yet. Burrito will continue to get late-night yogurt cups, juice, and all other manner of goodies stuffed with meds until that toe heals. But visits from friends sure do help.
It was weird to join the CSNW staff in the middle of summer.
Although many features of the sanctuary felt familiar, there was one aspect of the return that felt foreign: warm, sunny weather. Strangely, I had never actually spent time at the sanctuary during the summer. I began to intern here in the fall of 2015, was away for the entire summer of 2016, and only volunteered during the following fall and winter before accepting an employment offer from another sanctuary in early 2017. Because of this patchwork timeline, my earlier experiences here were largely characterized by damp weather and cold temperatures. Until this year, I had never experienced the wonders of summer in the Pacific Northwest and witnessed the amazing opportunities that the season provides for the chimpanzees.
Those golden summer days are long gone, and they won’t be back for a long while. Winter is here. Without the ex machina heroism of Arya Stark, we have no reason to believe that it will end early.
Last night, the skies began their annual efforts to cover this half of the state in a blanket of snow and ice. As I trudged up the sanctuary driveway this morning, I saw that Young’s Hill, the chimpanzees’ outdoor enclosure, was covered in a film of white powder that gradually thickened over the course of the day. Within a few weeks, the structures and grass will be hidden under perhaps several feet of snow that won’t fully melt until the spring. Given that chimpanzees have evolved to live in tropical forests, one would think that this climate would be detrimental to their well-being. Indeed, it creates many challenges for us caregivers, such as keeping the building warm at night and finding other ways to occupy the chimps besides repeated walks around the Hill. Despite its hassles, however, winter also allows the chimpanzees to have novel and exciting experiences, adding to the overall quality of their sanctuary life. Just as the human residents of the Pacific Northwest make the most of each season, so do the chimps.
On one January morning a few years ago, the other interns and I were helping J.B. to move thick, wet snow in order to make paths for the chimps. J.B. was using the tractor to bulldoze through the snow around the perimeter of the Hill, thereby creating a route for Jamie to patrol. The rest of us had shovels and were tasked with creating trails up to the nearest structures and bamboo forest. Nobody had seen the chimpanzees out on Young’s Hill since the last snowfall, so our goal was to give them a way to access their favorite spots without wading through the deeper drifts. I was halfway up the Hill, slinging the snow aside, when I noticed an odd pattern cutting through the smooth white surface off to my right. There, winding their way up the slope, were a set of chimpanzee tracks. They were unmistakably chimpy; each foot-print featured a conspicuously large thumb and each hand-print was really just a set of four knuckle-prints. I was in complete awe that one of the chimpanzees had, without any coaxing, ventured out alone into the icy landscape in search of some bamboo shoots. I placed my fist in the snow next to one print, snapped a photo with my phone, and returned to my labor.
Although chimps are often afraid of new or unpleasant sensations, sometimes they can surprise us by being brave and adventurous. In this way, even the most experienced caregivers can occasionally underestimate their adaptability, audacity, and determination.
With winter now upon us, I am looking forward to spending more time observing the sanctuary’s residents making the most of it. The cattle seem to be frustrated that the green grasses of early summer have desiccated until next year, but they seem to enjoy the extra hay and alfalfa that we provision. They’ve certainly changed quite a bit since their arrival here last winter, and it seems like they have grown more adaptable and independent. They’re also looking fuzzy and warm in their dense winter coats, so perhaps they won’t mind hanging out in their lower pasture until spring comes. Perhaps they can even dream of grazing in bright green fields as they lay in their barn this winter.
I am also eager to see how Willy B, Honey B, and Mave adjust to the seasons. They just had their first CSNW Thanksgiving with us a few days ago, and they may be given buckets of snow to eat and play with before the end of the week. Although they’re not regularly getting access to Young’s Hill after their first attempts to venture outside weren’t very successful, they will have plenty of opportunities to experience the winter season from the security of the outdoor chute. We’re not sure if the “Californian” chimps have ever seen snow before, but I’m confident that, like the seven chimps before them, they will embrace the new experiences with gusto.
P.S. Burrito had another good day today. He’s definitely itchy and possibly a bit bored, but he’s healing nicely. Bubba spent the day eating normal foods, picking at his scabs, and playing with vigor. We’ll hopefully have more updates soon.
The girls have been so sweet towards Burrito during his recovery. You know things are returning to normal when they stop doting on him and start trying to take advantage of him.