A Day in the Life of a Caregiver

Jordan Garbarino
Jordan Garbarino December 19, 2019
Garbarino, Jordan

Have you ever wondered about what it must be like to care for 290+ retired chimpanzees? Wonder no further! I’m here to share with you what a typical day in the life of a chimpanzee caregiver entails. My team of twelve and I have a busy day today so let’s jump right in!

7:00 AM: I arrive at Chimp Haven ready to start the day. On my way to change into our work clothes, I pass by Bo’s yard and make sure to tell my favorite boy good morning. Bo’s preferred method of play is bouncing and each morning I try to squeeze in a quick bounce or two with him.

7:15 AM: Our team meets and discusses where we want to begin our morning routine and who will work where. Our buildings are divided into wings that hold four separate groups of chimpanzees each. Today, I’ll start my day by doing health checks and distributing AM chow (a biscuit packed with extra nutrients) to one of those wings.

7:30 AM: I head in to check that all the chimps are awake and doing well. I make sure to greet Bryan and his three groupmates as I pass by. Bryan can be cranky in the mornings (and by cranky I mean throwing a certain smelly substance CRANKY) so I’m hoping to start both our days off on the right foot. After I see that everyone is doing well, I pass out chow to a chorus of food barks – the sound chimpanzees make to alert other chimps to the presence of food.

8:00 AM: I join some other caregivers who have already begun cleaning in a different wing. Every day we ask the chimpanzees to leave their bedrooms and go out into their yard for about an hour. We call the process of asking the chimps to go outside “shifting.”

I go to this particular wing every day because I’m working with a chimpanzee named Latoya to shift outside more consistently. Today, Latoya has executed our plan perfectly and meets me at her spot in the yard which allows me to close the door behind her. Juice (she seems to like grape flavored) and a banana make the perfect reward for this sweet gal!

8:30 AM: We start in on our cleaning routine. Because we shifted the chimpanzees outside it is safe for us to remove any old bedding from their rooms and replace it while adding any new furniture (such as hammocks or shelves) and enrichment. Hosing, squeegeeing, and scrubbing are all par for the course.

Though they have constant access to water, the chimps love to get drinks from the hose. Hulk is a big fan of “hosey squirts” as we call them and it’s hard to resist the look he gives me when I pass by with the hose. A hosey squirt for Hulk turns into one for Hulk, Whitney, Jill, AND Paula Jean but I don’t mind the extra company.

9:45 AM: After completing our first round of cleaning, we take a short break and catch up with each other. Often this includes swapping any cute chimpanzee stories from the morning.

10:15 AM: A team of us enter a different wing to execute the cleaning routine again. This time, I’m doing the food toss to encourage the chimps to come outside. Kale, cucumber, potato, and apple are all tossed downward and scattered into our open top corral as Zort’s group of 20 make their way outside.

Some of the boys can be a little too excited for the passing out of the bananas, so two other caregivers join me to make sure everyone gets one. Apple Blossom, as usual, manages to steal a banana – this time from Pumpkin – who doesn’t mind. We’ve prepared for this, though, and there are extras. Pumpkin and her 18 additional groupmates each receive their daily coveted banana. Now we can get started cleaning Zort’s bedrooms!

11:30 AM: We’ve finished our cleaning for the day and it’s time for another round of health checks. While making sure everyone is happy and accounted for, I share a quick game of chase with Gracie. It’s too hard to walk away when this little lady gallops up to me ready to play.

1:00 PM: After lunch and a popsicle to help beat the heat, it’s time to split up into our afternoon duties. In the afternoons, each team member is assigned a PM duty. Cleaning dirty enrichment, delivering bedding and bags of chow to the buildings, working on projects, and continuing to care for the chimps are all things we could be tasked with on a given afternoon. On this day, I’m continuing to look after the chimps at building C.

1:30 PM: Chow time! The chimps get another portion of chow in the afternoons and it’s up to me to pass it out. Elsie is notorious for spraying me with water from her lixit, the chimpanzee’s water source, while I chow. I’m in luck: Elsie has decided to spare me from her surprise shower and bee-lines for her biscuits instead.

2:00 PM: I fill out some logs on the computer about what was done today. We keep detailed records of each part of our routine – who fed who, who shifted, and who distributed chow.

2:30 PM: Four chimpanzees at my building get extra fluids each afternoon so I bring juice bottles with me to offer up. Onyx takes a while to drink hers – she likes to fill her lip up and then play with the juice in her mouth. Pierre swallows his in big gulps. Murphy prefers his squirts of juice more spread out and is willing to share with the girls in his group (especially Ariah) while he savors his mouthfuls. Camillo wants a big mouthful then a quick moment outside alone to enjoy it before he’s ready for more. I love these small moments where I get to sit and interact with the chimps the most.

3:00 PM: Our last task of the day is another round of health checks and passing out the PM vegetable. Today it’s carrots! A favorite of the chimpanzees. Riley steals a portion of Nina’s carrot after I hand it to her – which she allows because Riley is her 8-year-old son. Devon wants to play before he takes his carrot and I have some time to indulge him. Last but not least, I pass out carrots for Bo and his groupmates. Bo bounces with me briefly, takes a carrot, and steals away to enjoy it.

4:00 PM: After washing any last minute dishes from the day or completing any remaining logs, my team and I change back into our regular attire and head out for the day.

One of my favorite things about what I do is that no two days are the same. We might execute similar cleaning tasks or have a fairly set schedule for our afternoons, but the chimpanzees keep everything interesting. There is always someone being silly with enrichment, playing with a pal, or even hitting me with a cool blast of water when I’m not looking. Being a caregiver can be dirty, frustrating, and exhausting – but I can truly say I love what I do and that means everything to me.

A big shout out (or as we call it: a “pant hoot”) to my team. The dirty, frustrating, or exhausting parts of the day are all made infinitely better by having them to laugh and share with.

Jordan Garbarino
Jordan Garbarino
Positive Reinforcement Training Program Supervisor