Sometimes it’s hard not to look at the chimpanzees through our sorrow. We’ve spoken often here on the blog about what each of the chimpanzees have lost and endured. The ghosts of themselves they were when they first arrived. For me while Jamie’s “before sanctuary” photo is one of the most difficult to look at, I have always thought that her indomitable spirit can still clearly be seen in her eyes. Despite all she had been through, her strength and completeness was still there. But I sometimes think that in our intent to be compassionate, we must be cautious not to risk doing the chimpanzees a great disservice by seeing them only through the sometimes tragic circumstances of their lives.
There is no doubt that with each passing day in sanctuary we are able to see the chimpanzees becoming more and more their chimpanzee selves. As their stress, fear and anxieties fade into the background, their personalities are materializing in front of our eyes. Something I am learning to do more and more is not to hold each of the chimps to behaviors I have come to expect. I want to hold the space for them to grow and change in their own time and space. Provided with choices, an enriching environment, and a healthy, loving home, every day they show us another facet of themselves. And earlier this week Jamie gave us a perfect example of what sanctuary makes possible.
Typically the chimpanzees’ evening routine involves dinner being served at 4:30 while the playroom is closed for evening spot cleaning. We put out additional blankets for nesting and a food puzzle for evening enrichment. We then return access to the playroom so the chimps can enjoy their enrichment while Young’s Hill is closed off for the evening. The chimpanzees know the routine and normally and are more than ready to come in and start building their nests for the night. Usually by the time we leave, the chimps are in bed and if we’re lucky, offering nest grunts to us as we say goodnight and leave for the day at 5:30.
But a couple of nights ago, Jamie had other plans. It was a beautiful summer evening and she made it very clear that she was not ready for the door to Young’s Hill to be closed. And so it wasn’t. All the other chimpanzees were enjoying their evening enrichment and preparing their nests. But Jamie decided we should walk. And so we did. Caregiver Lisa and I took turns walking the perimeter of the hill with her again and again. At 8:00 J.B. and Diana (on their day off) came up to relieve us and wait for Jamie to decide she was ready to come in for the night. Occasionally, a few of the other chimps would get up to see what was happening or step onto the hill. Annie eventually built a nest in the greenhouse seemingly wanting to wait for Jamie to come in. Jamie finally decided she was ready for bed at 9:15.
While some people may not appreciate staying after work I think I speak for us all when I say I cannot think of anything that makes me feel as happy and privileged to do than to be able to provide the chimpanzees these choices. After all, isn’t that what sanctuary is all about? Loving them means respecting them and listening to them as the already complete individuals, with their own purposes, that they are.
In the well known words of naturalist Henry Beston, “For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.”