Getting to Know the Chimps Part 2

Getting to Know the Chimps Part 2

One year ago, I began volunteering at Chimps Inc and soon after, wrote about what my first few weeks were like getting to know the chimps. Since then, I have experienced so many amazing moments with the chimps and have had some incredible learning experiences. I have played many games with Jackson including chase and tug-o-war. I’ve blown bubbles and made funny faces with Emma. I’ve seen Topo show his fun side, suddenly breaking out in laughter and I’ve also seen his strong alpha side, determined to keep a close eye on any cars coming up the driveway, and comforting other chimps when they need it.

On several occasions I’ve had the opportunity to watch the caregivers do behavioral training with the chimps. Participating in behavioral training is always the chimp’s choice, but they consider it a fun game in which they can interact with their caregivers in exchange for especially fun treats. The abilities of the chimps to understand and complete tasks that aid in their medical care never cease to amaze me. After presenting each of her individual body parts for examination, caregiver Shayla tells Thiele, “stand up”, and Thiele quickly stands with her arms raised in the air, ready to be fully examined. Next Thiele amazed me by following instructions to step up onto a scale that had been placed in the enclosure for her. She kept her arms in the air while Shayla read the weight and didn’t move until given the okay.

I’ve had Jackson pose for photos for me, only to ask me to show them to him when I was done. He stared at his own image in the screen with such inquiry. I’ve seen how intelligent and determined the chimps can be, from CJ fishing into a trash can with a stick to get a pair of gloves I told her she couldn’t have, to Patti using sign language to ask for things. I’ve developed a close relationship with Herbie, who gives me hats to wear daily, and knocks on windows when I pass by. At the same time have learned not to get too comfortable or to trust any of the chimps, because they are as smart as they are fast.

In my year so far at Chimps Inc I’ve learned the preferences, moods, and individual personalities of each chimpanzee resident, which comes in handy while making their meals or picking which enrichment they will receive that day. I’ve been given the opportunity to watch medical exams and even to go to schools and talk to others about the chimps and how special they are. Having been here for a year, it has also been wonderful to see the many interns that pass through share in similar experiences with the chimps; receiving gifts from Topo or Herbie, seeing Patti sign, blowing bubbles for Emma, their first invitation to play chase with Jackson, and yes, even getting spit on by any one of the chimps.

By now, all the chimps seem to have made up their minds about me. Some seem to enjoy my company and the attention I give them while others let me know if I’ve overstayed my welcome. Both delight me, because it is the chimps’ choice to share that time with me or not. I have so much left to learn and look forward to many more days spent at Chimps Inc. It is always an adventure!


Kaleigh, Social Media Editor/Volunteer

Learn more about Chimps Inc’s volunteer program!