Fence Training

August 26th, 2011 by J.B.

We’ve made a lot of progress on Young’s Hill recently and it looks like we might be able to wrap things up in just a few short weeks. It’s hard to believe that the chimps will soon be wandering around their new, two-acre enclosure.

With construction in the final stages, it was time for us to begin fence training with the chimps. To do this, we built a small section of temporary electric fence just outside of the greenhouse, which the chimps can reach through the caging.

Teaching the chimps about electric fencing before letting them out onto Young’s Hill is important for two reasons. First, it is much safer for the chimps to learn about the fence in controlled conditions. The temporary fence ensures that their first contact with the wire will be with a fingertip and not some other, more sensitive, part of the body, and that they will be standing safely on the ground when they receive the shock. Second, the temporary fence allows us to separate the negative experience of their first shock from the experience of going outside for the first time. Because the temporary fence is just outside of their current enclosure, the chimps are able to retreat to a safe and trusted part of their home if they feel scared.

We began fence training on Monday. The chimps are naturally curious, and anything new in or near their enclosure becomes the object of intense examination.  Jamie, of course, was the first to touch the wire. She screamed and jumped back. The other chimps came to see what was going on. As far as we know, the Cle Elum Seven have never experienced electric fence before, so the other chimps didn’t seem to know what to make of Jamie’s reaction. Soon after, Jody and Foxie both touched the wire. While Jamie stayed outside and kept an eye on the fence, Jody and Foxie retreated to the doorway.

Burrito was next to approach. He fiddled with the fence, touching the insulators and the post itself.  Since we started this project, I had toyed with the idea of touching the fence with the chimps watching me. I mostly wanted to know what the chimps were going to experience, and I also thought it could serve as an additional opportunity for the chimps to learn about the fence. So, with Burrito in front of me, I touched my hand to the wire. This goes without saying, but the chimps are a lot tougher than me. While they screamed and ran away, I screamed and fell down. My knees literally buckled. While the shock was unpleasant to say the least, it only lasts 1/1000th of a second, and before you know it, everything is back to normal. But you have learned that you never want to touch the fence again.

Unfortunately, Burrito did not learn the lesson that I tried to impart, and he too received his first shock. By this time, the chimps were starting to understand what was going on. Missy, Negra, and Annie kept their distance. But later in the day, Annie’s curiosity got the best of her, and she touched the wire. The following day, Negra did the same. Missy still hasn’t touched it. It is possible that she learned from watching the others. The temporary fence will remain live until Young’s Hill is ready, in case she does want to learn for herself.

To be honest, I was dreading this part of the project. No one wants to see their friends upset. But it went as well as we could have hoped for – the chimps seem to understand and respect the fence, and no one has been traumatized. In fact, Foxie has been more playful this week than ever! Now that the training is out of the way, we can focus on the day when the chimps will experience the great outdoors for the first time.


11 Responses to “Fence Training”

  1. Donna says:

    Of course, everyone was dreading this part …but it will be invaluable for the chimps! I recently (at a horse farm in Lexington, Kentucky) accidentally touched the top of the fence, not seeing the wire there ….and yes, you do get a shock …but you do learn…the chimps will understand and then they will have such a great time! It’s all for the best. Kisses to Foxie and the gang!

  2. Kathy says:

    Well , if chimps are like my dogs, which I am sure they are a lot smarter than my dogs. It only takes them one time and they will not go near that wire that has those yellow insulators. the ball goes near the fence oh no. they look at us as if to say ,. You have to come get it. I am not gonna touch this wire. Every once in a while I will wonder if my wire is working and one of them will accidentally wag their tail and yelp and move away quickly. The one I use is not a bad shock but one you don’t want to touch just for the fun of it. I can hardly wait to see them out enjoying the Hill .It is such a beautiful view. Almost makes me want to be one of the 7 chimps that will be enjoying it.

  3. Julie says:

    I was wondering how you were going to introduce the fence to the chimps. It’s obvious that much thoughtful consideration went into the planning and I hope they can generalize their experience outside. Thank you for your compassionate care of the seven! I can’t wait to see seven black beings frolicing on the Hill!!!

  4. Katelyn says:

    JB, you’re awesome. My friend actually said, “Can’t JB touch the fence and teach the chimps not to do it?!” I thought, “Uh! Poor JB! He’s not gonna touch that fence!” LOL. And while the lesson was not received as intended, you’re awesome for doing that. And I’ll tell people you screamed and RAN away. 🙂

  5. JB you are incredible! No greater love…… Your care and respect for the Seven is so inspirational. Aim so grateful that they have you in their lives. Thank you!

  6. Dawn says:

    Your introduction plan was well thought out. But I sympathise with how difficult a thing to do it was. Though we can’t ever know for sure what the chimps are thinking (something mentioned here a week or so ago) my instincts tell me that in a trade off between touching the fence to learn its lesson and having a couple acres of the great outdoors with a breath taking view, the chimps would all choose learning the lesson!

    And I must agree with the others, it was great that you actually did it too, and they all saw you , so they know you know how it feels. Good going!

  7. Chris says:

    It’s like what we tell our children when we do something that is for their own good and safety…it hurts us just as much and probably more….and no, I don’t mean what parents used to tell their children before they spanked them…I always thought that was horrible! You did the absolute right, good and caring thing for the chimps, as much as you dreaded it and we all admire you so very much. You and all their caregivers more than anyone want to see the chimps happily and safely ensconced in their new home and this was a crucial step to ensure that!
    We are all so excited to see the magnificent 7 in their new home that you all have worked so hard to create!
    You all are such an inspiration…to making this world…a better place! 🙂

  8. Alison says:

    Just loved that you wrote the line “No one wants to see their friends upset.” It’s so true and just shows that your job is not your job, it’s your vocation. Those adorable, wonderful, chimps who’ve had such a sad start to life thoroughly deserve all the amazing things you and all the other fantastic staff and caregivers do for and with them. It’s as though they aren’t just the Cle Elum Seven any more. They are the CSNW Seven and the CSNW Seven + (x number of just outstanding staff/caregivers/volunteers) = Happy happy Annie + Burrito + Foxie + Jamie + Jody + Missy + Negra. There can be no better reward for all your hard work. Love and congratulations to all x x x

  9. Jeani Goodrich says:

    WOW JB! I can’t say I am surprised but am awed by your compassion and willingness to go the extra mile for your friends. Thank you for your explanation and for all the hard work everyone is putting in on Young’s Hill to get it ready for the 7. It is going to be such a joy to see and know how happy everyone is.

  10. Theresa says:

    I can’t begin to imagine how hard it was for you all to witness fence training. It was necessary though. While at Chimp Eden a friend accidentally touched the fence. All I heard was a scream. The touching part was that some of the chimps came over to empathize. They knew exactly what happened. She was fine after a few minutes but said it was quite the jolt and numbed her arm for a minute or so. Your demonstration for the chimps was brave, J.B. It shows how much you love your friends and your wish for them to see the danger without them being hurt. I would have done it for them too!