Today was a busy day in the chimp house. J.B. was working out on Young’s Hill, we had a full house of hard working volunteers, and lots of training! However, the chimps had a nice relaxing Friday. There was a lot of grooming, small games of chase, & napping.
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.
Our facility is a maze of doors, and each is important in its own way.
To be exact, we have 31 doors that are intended for humans and 21 doors that allow chimpanzees to access different areas. All of these are within the electric fence perimeter that surrounds the Chimp House and Young’s Hill. There are many other doors, gates, and other entryways located around the property, and we still have many new ones left to build as we expand.
It’s not easy to get lost, but it is a never-ending challenge to keep track of the doors. Monitoring doors is one aspect of being a caregiver that we rarely mention on social media even though the task dominates our work day. We’re constantly double-checking to make sure doors are closed, testing the accompanying padlocks, and reporting to each other when we open and unlock new ones. We inspect the corresponding locks and levers that allow us to operate the hydraulic and pneumatic doors constantly, and we have a huge checklist of safety checks that we complete at the end of the day to ensure that the doors are open and closed in a safe and appropriate arrangement.
For the chimps, the doors are also a priority. This Chimp House is their territory, and they know every inch of it.
Free-ranging chimpanzees living in African forests use a combination of memorable landmarks and acute spatial awareness to find their way around. It’s not surprising, therefore, that our chimpanzee residents are highly attuned to changes in their own environment. Their ability to notice and remember minute details is remarkable, and we all have anecdotes that highlight their perceptiveness. Any changes to their home are, by default, their business, and sometimes even subtle changes can have a big impact on their day-to-day lives.
On Thursday, J.B. added a set of translucent vinyl flaps over the doorway that leads from the new chimp rooms into the outdoor chute. These flaps will allow us to have the door open while still keeping it warm inside, so they’re a critical addition as we prepare the sanctuary for winter. So far, Annie, Jamie, Jody and Missy have all learned to waltz through them without any noticeable issues. Foxie, on the other hand, is absolutely terrified of brushing past them. We’d probably have more luck asking her to go into the sewer drain from the opening scene of It. Each morning, she has had to muster up the courage to charge through the flaps on her way out onto the Hill, and then she has to dart back inside at the end of the day. Right now, as I am typing this, she is beating the flaps to death with one of her dolls as we try to entice her inside with handfuls of grapes and encouragement. We’re optimistic that she will acclimate eventually, especially since she sees four of her closest friends passing through repeatedly without hesitation. At one point, Jody even hit the flaps in what appeared to be Foxie’s defense. We have some options for making the strange new barrier less impactful, too.
On top of the new door flaps and the regular drama within her own social group (including a brief fight over breakfast), the tension between social groups has seemingly added to Foxie’s pre-existing anxiety. With Burrito, Honey B, Mave, Negra and Willy B now living together on the other side of the building, Foxie and her pals have been trying to interact with them through every window possible. To accommodate housing two social groups in the same facility, we’ve added another new door to the complex. This door, known by us as Door Z, is an additional barrier that separates the chimpanzees in the Greenhouse from those on Young’s Hill. Because of this, we could give the Girl Gang access to the Hill while the mixed group occupies the Greenhouse and Playroom.
Today, Jamie went to inspect the new door and search for a way through while the others followed. They were shocked to see Willy B’s silhouette through the semitransparent doors and they all took turns anxiously screaming, submissively pant-grunting, and excitedly bouncing at him. Even though the communication was mostly positive, the arousal was contagious and the females tried their best to break through the new steel door so that they could get closer to Willy. Foxie tried to stick her head around the new door, between the electrified wires of the fence, and ended up receiving a painful shock that sent her screaming back to the perceived safety of the chute.
Eventually, the drama subsided enough to let Willy take a peaceful nap while the Girl Gang resumed their normal activities of patrolling the boundary of Young’s Hill and exploring the habitat.
After our string of peaceful days in the Chimp House, today snapped us back to the reality of trying to manage two groups of chimpanzees in adjacent enclosures. It certainly had more than its share of drama and tension. The growing pains are very real, but we hope that every challenge we overcome now will lead to a more stable and enjoyable future for Foxie and her friends.
Working at a chimpanzee sanctuary, I never anticipated the number of (human) people I would get to know. I like to say, because I believe it is verifiably true, that the chimpanzees have brought the most amazing people into my life.
No one has ever called me a social butterfly, but even an introvert like me has managed to develop unexpected relationships over the years with those who hold the chimpanzees in the hearts. I can’t help but respect people who love the chimpanzees. Even if I don’t know donors very well, I think about them often.
Because of our sponsor-a-day and personalized/memorial stone fundraising programs, we learn about the people (human and non) in the lives of donors who they love and, often, who they have lost. It’s an intimate view that we wouldn’t otherwise have. It’s something that is special way beyond the dollars that are generated to help care for the chimpanzees.
When donors themselves pass, sometimes we find out because relatives make donations in their honor and sometimes, because we’ve had a personal connection to them at some point, we find out like any friend or acquaintance would – through the heartbreaking announcements that those left behind make in order to inform everyone that someone irreplaceable is gone.
This year we have received far too many of those announcements. I don’t feel it’s the sanctuary’s place to pass along this information outside of the circle of people who are directly connected, but I’m so glad that we have ways to honor them in non-public ways.
To anyone who has lost someone this year, my heart goes out to you. To all of the donors who have passed this year, thank you for being the generous being you were and for spreading your light.
Today was a gorgeous day at the sanctuary. Before the humans arrived, I saw on the remote camera that Willy B and Burrito were sitting in front of a window grooming up on the catwalk of the playroom, silhouetted by the gentle morning light. These guys have been somewhat reserved with each other the last few days. There haven’t been any raucous games of chase or wrestling, like on Wednesday when they first got together, but today they had at least three quiet grooming sessions.
Mave, Honey B, and Negra spent some of the morning relaxing in the greenhouse before I shifted everyone to allow the “Girl Gang” to have some time on Young’s Hill.
J.B. snapped these winning photos.
If you are familiar with our now rather-complicated building, you might wonder how Jamie, Jody, Foxie, Missy, and Annie got onto the hill without disrupting Willy B and Burrito. And the answer is, they did disrupt them. We decided it was time for a little disruption. The girl gang went out through the chute, right past the playroom where Willy B and Burrito were together.
They guys spied on them through the windows and did some (separate) displaying, but overall there wasn’t as much drama as I was anticipating, given that they haven’t seen each other in a while.
It was a good day.
Chimpanzees thrive on routine.
Of course, we don’t want every day to be exactly the same for them. As caregivers, we strive to provide the chimps with an enrichment program that balances variety and predictability, which is a never-ending challenge. The result is that we work hard each day to facilitate a range of new experiences for the chimpanzees within the framework of a regular schedule. Knowing what’s going to happen next helps the chimps to plan ahead, make choices, and be agents of their own comfort and happiness.
With so many new events occurring at the sanctuary, sticking to a familiar routine also seems to help the chimps adjust to each change. For example, even though Jamie and the Girl Gang are now residing in a previously unfamiliar area of the Chimp House, we still provide them with their favorite enrichment items at the same time each morning, serve their meals on the same schedule, and open the hydraulic gate each day so that they can explore Young’s Hill.
We’ve had some perfect fall weather for the past few days, and the Girl Gang (Annie, Foxie, Jamie, Jody and Missy) have been eagerly spending time outdoors. Just this weekend, J.B. and a group of committed volunteers built a new multi-level wooden structure on Young’s Hill. As Kelsi noted yesterday, the females were quick to investigate this new addition to their habitat. Even though nobody modified or enhanced the structure overnight, the girls needed some extra time today to reacquaint themselves with the new tower.
The new structure is located near the entryway into the chute. Now that they’re in the new area, Jamie and the others access Young’s Hill via the chute and therefore begin their patrols over on the southeast corner of the enclosure. Even though their patrols no longer start over by the Greenhouse door, they still walk in the same clockwise direction as they have since they first started exploring the Hill almost a decade ago. I have never seen them patrol in a counterclockwise direction. Just a few days ago, I jokingly asked J.B. if we could try to get Jamie to walk counterclockwise around the Hill with us. He dryly answered “No. You can’t do that.” We agreed that Jamie has a routine and it would be a crime to disrupt it.
So, when I opened the hydraulic door and the chimps hustled out of the chute onto the Hill, the unthinkable happened.
Anna and I were quite stunned when all five of the females started plodding their way uphill along the southeastern boundary of the enclosure. Missy led the charge, of course, but Jamie seemed a bit apprehensive about the whole thing. She started to follow the others, then fell behind, and was soon looking back at Anna (who was watching the events unfold from outside the electrified fence).
Sure enough, Jamie returned to the bottom of the slope and began to patrol in her normal clockwise pattern, gesturing at Anna to follow along. She encountered the others about halfway up the northwestern boundary and it was hella awkward. As Jamie trudged past each of the others, they had to stop and greet each other with a touch and a chimp kiss. Then they all just stood there, lined up along the fence, and watched her defiantly continue up the slope on her own.
Jamie seemed a little off after that, because she abandoned her patrol, ditched Anna in favor of the Twister, and cut straight through the bamboo forest on her way back to the chute. Jamie can handle wildfires, social integrations and even snakes, but going counterclockwise around the Hill is too much.
This exemplifies the power of routine. Some chimps, such as Jamie, have personalities that seem to thrive on discipline and repetition. She likes to be in control. She did three patrols today, walking at the same pace in the same clockwise direction using the same path. The other four females, who tend to be more easygoing, didn’t seem scared by the idea of hiking the trail backwards.
Of course, there is the possibility that Jamie, like Derek Zoolander, cannot turn left. Let’s not rule that out.
A new structure was built today! We had a wonderful group, Thrivent Financial, come out and build this two-story deck! The chimps anxiously waited to see how it would turn out.
These awesome volunteers worked so hard throughout the entire day:
Before it was finished:
We are so excited for this structure. I can imagine Negra lounging in the shade while warm summer air breezes by her or Foxie playing with her dolls at the top! I can also envision Mave, Willy B, & Honey B concurring their fears and climbing up this sturdy structure!
Jamie, Jody, Foxie, Missy, & Annie were able to go out and explore on the new play structure. Of course, a new structure means someone has to inspect it, which is what Jamie and the rest of the girls did!
After inspection, there were patrols to do:
And than back on the the new play structure. The girls seem to be in approval of it!
Even Foxie who can be suspicious of new things, was hanging out!
We just want to give Thrivent Financial a big thank you for building this amazing structure!
It is winnnndy! The chimps had a very leisure day playing, napping, and watching J.B. and a few volunteers start building a new structure out on Young’s Hill! They are just getting a section of the project done today and than another group of volunteers will come tomorrow to help us build the rest of the structure. Normally I would expect the chimps, especially Jamie, to be out in the chute inspecting everything that was going on. However, it was so windy no one wanted to be outside really. Jamie did watch from the windows and the comfort of her own nest.
Jamie watching from the mezzanine:
Jody cozy in a nest:
Missy curled up:
The crew working hard and trying not to get blown away: