Archive for February 18th, 2012

What is natural?

Saturday, February 18th, 2012

If you’ve been following our blog for a while, you know that we strive to post photos and videos of the chimps’ daily lives – everyday. We made a decision even before the Cle Elum Seven chimpanzees arrived that we wanted people to get to know who they were and what Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest is all about. We share every area of the sanctuary, even if there’s paint peeling in the shot (it’s so hard to get paint to stick when you clean as often as we do!). We want to let people in, and we want them to fall in love with Missy, Jamie, Negra, Burrito, Jody, Annie and Foxie as we have.

Working in a sanctuary and doing all of this sharing leads to some interesting questions about what “natural behavior” is for chimpanzees. It’s not the easiest question. Captivity itself is not “natural” for chimpanzees. We firmly believe that chimpanzees don’t belong in captivity. We’d love to see the day when sanctuaries like ours are obsolete because there are no more chimpanzees in laboratories, entertainment or in private homes – no more chimpanzees that need rescuing. In the meantime, we care for seven chimpanzees who have come from very unnatural and impoverished lives. They all have unique personalities shaped by their genetic makeup combined with their unusual and tragic past experiences.

The daily lives of the Cle Elum Seven are pretty different than what they would experience in their native habitat in Africa. All of the staff members have studied primatology, and we understand this. We use our knowledge of chimpanzee behavior to provide the chimps with what they need: a social group, room to roam, nesting material, enrichment to keep their minds occupied, choices, vertical space, the opportunity to exercise, a diet full of variety but focused on fresh fruits and vegetables, food forages to mimic what chimpanzees spend most of their time in the wild doing – looking for food, a routine so they know what to expect, and celebrations plus anything else we can think of to make each day unique.

I do worry sometimes that people might come across a photo like the one below that I took earlier today and not understand all of what I wrote above. I worry that, taken out of context, what we share might give people the wrong idea about chimpanzees and what Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest is all about. I’d love your thoughts on this issue.

Below is a very unnatural chimpanzee scene, unless it’s from a chimpanzee sanctuary in the NW of the United States in February, in which case it’s pretty normal.

Jamie licking peanut butter off of a pair of clown glasses while Jody and Foxie enjoy snow from a kiddie pool:

Jody, Jamie and Foxie around a pool full of snow