Ellen Brady-McGaughey, Chimpanzee Caregiver
Sabrina Boyd, Chimpanzee Caregiver
After arriving at the sanctuary early last year from a research facility in Texas, Hobbes’s group of six – which included Bart, Maxi, Cybil, Taffy, and Kaya – was introduced to another group of 15 to create our largest group of 21 chimpanzees.
Once the groups had some time to get used to one another and new friends were made, the entire group moved from one of Chimp Haven’s large play yards into a multi-acre forested habitat. For Hobbes’s original group of six, it was the first time ever experiencing a habitat, so all of us were excited to see what they would think.
The two boys – Hobbes and Bart – both seemed very confident. Bart darted right out of the bedrooms and took off into the middle of the woods. I assumed he had gone to the moat, but soon saw that he just disappeared in the woods for several minutes then reappeared back by the chimps’ bedrooms. Hobbes also emerged into the habitat with full confidence and performed some impressive athletic displays down by the moat.
Kaya was the girl with the most confidence in her new environment. She took off down to the moat and immediately investigated the moat water, putting her arm in to test the depth. Cybill moved quickly down the wall while holding onto it, steadily making her way toward the moat with Kaya. Once she made it about halfway down though, she heard Maxi screaming in fear and came back for her. Maxi was a little apprehensive about leaving the bedrooms once she saw the large wooded habitat, and came to the window looking for reassurance from me while fear grinning and screaming. I told her it was okay, and she could come outside, and after a few minutes of encouragement she came out slowly. She and Cybill then made their way down to the moat together once Maxi worked up the courage and Cybill showed her how to hold onto the wall.
Taffy had her own adventure. She came out into the habitat quickly but instead taking the route the rest of the group was using, she went down the opposite side of the habitat and discovered Ladybirds’ group on the other side of her wall. There was a lot of investigation through a small space in the wall which developed into some vocalizing and the use of tools (a long stick) for a more in-depth investigation of the scrappy “Golden Oldies” next door!
Shortly after, at the sanctuary’s next Chimpanzee Discovery Day, we loaded the habitat with their favorite foods, carefully placing bananas in the trees in hopes some would climb up and get them.
Taffy seemed hesitant to climb, but saw bananas hanging in a tree about 10 feet up and looked interested in them. She started to try to climb a few times but then sat back down and looked up at the bananas again. Finally she climbed, but it seemed clear that this was her first time trying to climb a tree. It was not graceful, but she was able to get far enough up to get her bananas, and came right back down to enjoy them on the ground.
A few weeks later I was walking around the sanctuary during my lunch to say hello to the chimps. I walked past their habitat and saw someone rustling around in a tree! I ran to get a better vantage point and was so excited to see Kaya in the tree, foraging for leaves and acorns.
Once she saw me watching her, she quickly descended the tree, making a graceful drop to the ground from a low branch. She then ran over to meet me for a play session. When she rolled over to let me tickle her, she opened her mouth just a little bit to show me her new prizes, two acorns she had collected from the tree! I looked up again and saw another chimp in the tree, this time it was Cybill. She was foraging too! Somehow, I had missed seeing her climb up the tree in my excitement about Kaya.
After this day, I started seeing Hobbes’s group in that tree much more often. I drove by a few days later while handing out the chimps’ afternoon snacks and Maxi was in the tree. She was foraging until she saw me approaching then she came down quickly to collect her carrot.
Seeing them in the tree has become more commonplace, but still just as exciting. We have yet to observe Bart or Hobbes in a tree, but they are surely enjoying their habitat. The boys patrol their space frequently, and are often seen with others monitoring their habitat. Seeing them not only acclimate but thrive in their new area has been a privilege to watch. We hope to see more of their new group learning to climb and enjoy all that the habitat has to offer too!