Nearly ten years ago, we met these chimpanzees in the windowless basement of a laboratory where they had lived for decades, often alone. Each walk around Young’s Hill still feels like a small miracle.
For Jamie, patrolling Young’s Hill is serious business. Tell that to Jody, Foxie, Annie, and Missy, who all seem like they’re having a little too much fun.
No matter how long you work at a sanctuary or how well you know the chimps, there are still moments that take your breath away. Jody, Foxie, Jamie, and Burrito spent decades living in isolation in barren laboratory cages. Today, they are free to patrol their territory as a family.
Jamie is a walking machine. All day long, she asks – OK, demands – for her caregivers to put on some cowboy boots and join her on patrol of her two-acre enclosure. How does a chimpanzee who doesn’t know sign language make such a complex demand? Part of it is that we just know Jamie well – over the years, we’ve figured out what she likes through a lot of trial and error and we’ve settled into a routine. But as you can see in this video, she also makes herself understood through a lot of pointing, gesturing, and stomping. And if you’ve ever visited another country and were forced to communicate through gesture (and maybe some stomping as frustration set in), you know that you can actually communicate a lot of information that way.
Jamie doesn’t care if we’re in the middle of something else, like cleaning enclosures or washing toys, when she asks. When she wants to walk, we’re expected to drop everything and comply. But hey, you can’t say no to the boss…
We set out a chow forage after cleaning the greenhouse this morning, but for some reason only Burrito went out when I opened the door. That was fine with him.
After breakfast, Missy and Annie sat in the doorway to Young’s Hill, trying to decide if it had warmed up enough yet to go out.
Jody was the first to go out. At first she seemed a little uncomfortable, but as soon as the sun came out she began to relax.
Jamie and Missy immediately set off around the hill.
Annie came out too, clutching her blankets.
Foxie hung out with her troll in her usual spot on the lower platform.
This is downright balmy weather for Central Washington in December and the chimps seemed eager to spend as much time as possible outside.
Everyone but Negra, of course. She took her time finishing her apple from breakfast and then made her way back to bed.
Later in the day, a light mist started to fall, but Missy and Jamie kept at it. We are at walk number six now, and there’s plenty of daylight left. Got to take advantage of this weather while we can.
Unless this is your first time visiting the blog (if so, welcome!!), you probably know about Jamie’s obsession with walking around the perimeter of Young’s Hill while one or more of her human caregivers walks around the outside of the perimeter while wearing a cowboy boot.
She has been doing this multiple times a day with all of her caregivers since the spring. While Jamie is quite demanding about taking these walks 4-7 times a days, it’s admittedly not a dreaded task for us humans. It’s hard to describe how great it feels to not only be making Jamie happy, which is pretty much a CSNW caregiver’s definition of a successful day, but it’s also just a very peaceful way to spend 15 or so minutes. It’s particularly great right now because the weather has been amazing this October, and the hill and the surrounding property is beautiful, even awe-inspiring at certain times of the day.
We actually dreamed of doing these perimeter walks before Young’s Hill was a reality. When it was in the design phase, we wondered if the chimps might patrol the perimeter of the hill, similar to the way chimpanzees in the wild go on patrol to check the boundaries of their territory. So when Jamie started doing this, it felt right.
While spending time with the chimpanzees one-on-one, like walking with Jamie while the other chimps do their own thing, is personally fulfilling, what’s 100 times more rewarding is observing the chimpanzees with each other and seeing their bonds strengthen and their friendships expand.
Which is why we’ve been thrilled that other chimpanzees have been joining Jamie on her walks lately. J.B. captured some clips on his phone and put together the video below.
Maybe, just maybe, one day the chimpanzees will go off on their own with each other to walk the perimeter of the hill, leaving us humans behind.
I will never forget the first time the Cle Elum Seven chimps saw rain.
Central Washington is very dry in the summer, and a couple of months had gone by after their arrival without any significant precipitation. Every day was hot and sunny. Imagine this from their perspective. They had lived for decades in windowless rooms. Some hadn’t been outside since they were infants; others may have never seen the outdoors in their entire lives. As far as they knew, this is how the outside world was and always would be.
Then one day, the skies opened up and it poured.
The chimps were in the playroom at the time, and they ran to the doors and windows to see what was happening. Missy and Jamie started to alarm call, alerting the others to this frightening and confusing turn of events. Jamie was brave enough to go outside, but she immediately turned around and dried herself off head to toe with a towel. When it was over, they cautiously ventured out to inspect the aftermath.
It’s both heartbreaking and awe inspiring to watch a 35-year-old learn about basic things like rain. As the years went by, the chimps grew accustomed to the sight and sound of rain, but they still didn’t like to go outside in it. They’d spend rainy days indoors in their nests, and if they were unfortunate enough to get caught outside in the rain, they’d run as fast as they could to get back inside.
But this year, Jamie decided that a little rain wasn’t going to keep her from walking around Young’s Hill. And as I watch her walk, drenched from the rain but determined to carry on, I can’t help but admire her.