If you’ve met Opal, you’ve no doubt met Opal’s keys. Since the 38-year-old arrived at the sanctuary in 2016, it’s hard to remember a time when she didn’t have her beloved set of plastic toy keys in tow. Where she goes, they go.
Opal is particular about who gets to “babysit” her keys. Only a few trusted chimps in her group have earned the right to safeguard her most prized possession when she has more pressing matters to attend to (like charming a caregiver for extra fruit snacks).
Opal isn’t the only chimp with a special item which care staff refer to as “babies” – far from it, in fact. Fanny loves her stuffed monkey. Sheena used to carry a troll doll wherever she went. Violet had a very serious, long-term love affair with a Sponge Bob Square Pants toy.
While many chimps gravitate toward stuffed animals, others are not limited to soft, cuddly “babies.” Alice’s baby is a rubber boot. Elijah’s is a big, blue 50-gallon barrel.
Regardless of how or where the baby presents itself, one thing remains the same: the chimps love these attachment items, and often take great care to take their babies along wherever they go.
The reasons why some chimps develop attachment to items while others don’t vary. Some chimps seem to use their babies as comfort items, and some enjoy having ownership over an item that is all theirs, while others relish in the responsibility of caring for their items the way they might care for a baby chimp.
Whatever the motivation, the chimps’ “babies” provide them with happier, fuller lives and provide care staff with endless entertainment.
Take Elijah and his blue barrel, for example. In addition to choosing a seemingly odd item as a baby, Elijah also created endless hijinks when it came to carrying the barrel indoors and outdoors. Often the barrel would create a bottleneck at his bedroom door, but that didn’t stop Elijah from making sure his baby came inside at naptime.
Over time, most chimps outgrow their babies or go through phases where a new items catches their attention for a while. Some though, care for their babies for a lifetime.
Everyone at the sanctuary remembers the sweet relationship between Grandma and her stuffed chimps and gorillas. It was clear she had, at some point in her life, been a real life chimp “auntie” in the ways she doted on her stuffed animals. While Grandma passed in 2015 at nearly 62 years old, staff still loves to remember how she sweetly cared for her babies.
“She would hug and kiss them when she was reunited with them after a bath and take them everywhere,” remembers Caregiver Erin Loeser. “Often she wouldn’t shift outside until she had her baby with her, so care staff would tell her, ‘Go get your baby, Grandma!’ and she’d get it and then shift.”
For many chimps like Grandma, having a “baby” to love makes their time at sanctuary all the sweeter, and the care team is happy to oblige.