Chimp Stories

JR, the Playful Knight

Mary Reininger
Mary Reininger March 21, 2024

One of the best parts of my chosen career working with chimpanzees is when something happens that lets you know you mean something to the incredible beings that we care for and love. It can be as subtle as a look that says “hey, friend” or as overt as fingers waving at you through the mesh inviting you to come closer. One of my favorite memories involves a chimp named JR.

JR and I met when he arrived at Chimp Haven in 2016. He is a member of Pepi’s group and tends to be more of a “chimp’s chimp” than a people-oriented one. He can be stubborn and willful. Though as time has gone by, I have learned he also has a wicked sense of humor and likes to play jokes on his groupmates as well as his caregivers. He finds himself quite amusing when he succeeds in one of his plans.


One sunny morning several years ago, I was shifting his group outside so that we could clean their bedrooms. JR was refusing to go out into the yard with them and was just moving around in one of the group’s bedrooms, ignoring me when I would call him. Getting nowhere with asking him to go outside, I let him have the room. As I walked past him, I shook my head and told him he was being a silly boy. He finally made eye contact with me. What I did not expect was that he audibly started to laugh and invited me to play chase! Then I got his joke, my frustration disappeared, and I laughed with him.

Fast forward to one morning a few months later. While feeding his group their diet, I had a moment with him that hit me right in the feels. Another caregiver was shifting the group out into the yard while I fed them their diet. She asked me to come up towards the building to try and coax Chris, the last chimp in the bedrooms, outside. JR and Albert decided to follow me when I put the group’s diet buckets down and moved towards the building with a couple of tempting bananas to help coax Chris outside. While I called Chris, I held JR and Albert away from the door with baby-bites of banana so that they would not run back into the bedroom. The plan worked; Chris came outside. All appeared well, the group was all out in the yard, and I could go back to feeding them their diet. Or so I thought.


I soon realized that Chris had other ideas. He decided to show off before he came up to get his banana and started a display directed towards me. His low pant hoots got JR and Albert pilo (hair standing on end) and moving around, but they stayed near me, hoping to get more banana-bites. Chris’ pant hoots ended with a bipedal charge right at the mesh where I was standing. While I was behind the mesh barrier that always separates humans from chimps at Chimp Haven, I expected a powerful slam against that mesh. So, I moved back, lowered myself and put my arm out in submission.

To my surprise, Chris did not make it all the way to the mesh. Right before he reached it, a black blur tackled him from his left and pushed him towards the building wall. I quickly realized that the blur was JR! Once he pushed Chris out of the way, JR chose not to chase Chris and deliberately moved away from him. I told JR he was my knight in shining armor for protecting me. He seemed quite pleased, stomping around chuckling to himself while Chris went running off screaming. After a minute or so, JR came over and got his banana from me. I called him my hero and we bobbed at each other for a while before he bounced away. I have enjoyed watching his antics over the years and seeing the joy he gets when he is able to get someone good with one of his jokes. I absolutely love this stubborn, funny, and playful male!


Mary Reininger
Mary Reininger
PRT Program Coordinator