Archive for the ‘Veterinary Care’ Category

Building Trust

Thursday, November 30th, 2017

Out of all the humans who work and volunteer at the sanctuary, only a handful have any sort of physical contact with the chimpanzees. Those who do must go through months of safety training first. Chimpanzees are incredibly strong and unpredictable, so we take these safety rules very seriously. Even the chimps’ wonderful local vet, Dr. Erin Zamzow, never touches the chimps unless they are sedated for a medical procedure. (Did I mention that we take our safety rules seriously?)

Dr. Erin has been assisting the sanctuary for years, and has been an integral part of several procedures, but still the chimps primarily know her as the doctor who comes around when something scary happens. So in an effort to demystify her a little, she’s been spending more time at the sanctuary – we want her to be a familiar, non-threatening presence in the chimps’ lives. She is currently going through caregiver training; when she’s done, she’ll be able to serve meals to the chimps, play chase and tug of war, groom, and give back rubs. She’ll be a trusted friend.

Building trust

Friday, October 27th, 2017

Providing medical care to chimpanzees is always a challenge, but it can be particularly difficult when they have been subject to decades of invasive medical research procedures against their will.

Years ago, we participated in a study that considered whether chimpanzees might exhibit abnormal behaviors that cluster into syndromes similar to posttraumatic stress disorder and depression in humans (you can read it here). Negra was featured in the paper as a case vignette:

A chimpanzee named Negra was a 36-year-old female at the time of the study. Taken from the wild in Africa as an infant, she has remained in captivity since that time. She was used in invasive research, including hepatitis experiments, and for breeding. Each of her infants was removed from her at an early age. During the period in which she was used in research, she was kept in isolation for several years. Approximately 1 year prior to the study, she was transferred to Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest in Washington state, where she currently lives with six other chimpanzees.

Negra met alternative criteria for depression and PTSD. According to reports, she had persistent depressed hunched posture, and she was socially withdrawn. Negra slept excessively during the daytime, and she lacked interest in play, food, other individuals, and grooming. She also demonstrated poor attention to tasks. She was described as slow and sluggish, and at times, she appeared anxious. In response to an unexpected touch, she would “threat bark,” scream, or run away. Compared with other chimpanzees, she demonstrated less variability in her facial expressions. Caretakers reported that her face was expressionless, “like a ghost,” for at least a month after she arrived at the sanctuary. She seldom, if ever, exhibited a play face. She was tested for a thyroid disorder and assessed for other medical causes of her clinical presentation, but all laboratory tests were within normal limits. Based on later reports provided by her caretakers, some of her symptoms have improved since she has been living in the sanctuary. She has become more interested in other chimpanzees, including grooming, and the variability in her facial expressions has increased.

Negra’s anxious response to being touched was not just a sad reminder of her earlier trauma; it was a serious impediment to her care at the sanctuary. Chimpanzees routinely receive wounds from fights, they develop dental problems, they get heart disease and diabetes and many other illnesses, and these things often require medical intervention.

There’s always a way to force medical care on an uncooperative chimpanzee, and sadly that is what’s required from time to time. But that can be stressful and even dangerous. They deserve a chance to participate willingly. Giving them that choice, however, requires a lot of time and energy on the part of their caregivers.

For years, CSNW caregivers (first Debbie and now Anna) have been working with Negra to habituate her to basic medical evaluations and treatments as part of our positive reinforcement training program. These efforts have paid off many times over, most recently when Negra received a wound to her back during a fight. Negra let Anna spray the injury with antiseptic solution and she allowed Dr. Erin to follow that up with laser therapy. In cases where antibiotics may be needed, Negra will even let her caregivers swab the wound to culture the infection and determine the best course of treatment.

For some chimpanzees, this kind of cooperation is no big deal. But chimpanzees are individuals – they have unique life experiences and they cope with those experiences in different ways. Negra has never given her trust lightly. It had to be earned through years of persistent efforts on the part of her caregivers.

It has certainly been worth it.

An update

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

As many blog followers may know, Negra’s toe was injured during a fight about a month ago. After monitoring the injury closely, we knew we had to perform a minor surgery to help it heal properly. I’ve been gone for a few weeks (one week vacation, one week out sick), so it’s been a little while since I’ve seen the Queen of the sanctuary. I’m happy to report that she’s all rested up and she’s recovered back into the fiery (maybe a little bit demanding) chimpanzee we all know and love! As an added bonus, her blood work (done during her procedure) just came back and everything looks normal.

A few photos of Negra from today’s lunch:

Visiting Hours

Saturday, January 14th, 2017

Health care workers know that emotional support from friends and family can play an important role in the healing process. So while Negra might be on restricted activity for a few days, she still gets regular visits from her family.

Then again, who needs family when you’ve got a constant stream of peanuts, peanut butter, cabbage, and pineapple coconut juice…

Negra’s surgery

Thursday, January 12th, 2017

If you read Diana’s blog post on Saturday, then you know that Negra recently sustained an injury to her toe that we’ve been closely monitoring. After careful consideration, we decided that we needed to intervene surgically to help speed the healing process and reduce the risk of long-term complications. Yesterday, our amazing volunteer veterinarian, Dr. Zamzow, along with two skilled and generous volunteer anesthesiologists, came out to conduct the minor operation.

Procedures like these actually begin the night before, when we isolate and withhold food from the chimpanzee being treated. In the morning, we shift all of the other chimpanzees into another area so that the patient can enjoy some peace and quiet during the anesthetic induction. Of course, these chimpanzees have been around the block a few times, so they know what’s going on. Sometimes they express concern and want to see what’s happening inside – especially the group’s den mother, Jody:

The chimpanzee being treated is given an injectable anesthetic in an enclosure designed for this purpose – it’s small and has no furniture or other things to climb on so that they won’t get hurt as they lose their coordination from the anesthetic (right now this is one of the front rooms – the same room you’ve seen in recent videos where the chimps like to watch their playroom parties being set up). Once they are fully anesthetized, we strap them on a stretcher and wheel them to the clinic where they’re put on gas anesthesia and hooked to cardiac and anesthetic monitors for their safety.

Our clinic, which is in the back of a 38-foot trailer, has served us well for the few procedures we have had to do, but part of the expansion project we hope to break ground on this year includes even better spaces for anesthesia induction, medical intervention, and recovery. The new and improved space will help the seven chimpanzees currently at CSNW as well as the new chimpanzees we expect to welcome over the next few years.

Here’s Negra in the clinic being prepped for surgery:

Anesthesia can be hard on a chimpanzee, particularly when they are older or ill. That’s why we try to do as much health monitoring and treatment as we can while they are awake using positive reinforcement training. But sometimes more complicated procedures require full anesthesia. Thankfully, Negra did great throughout the procedure, and she was soon on her way back to the enclosure where she could be monitored during her recovery. As one of our anesthesiologists taught us, anesthesiology is like flying a plane – the most dangerous times are takeoff and landing. So as a chimpanzee recovers, we have to watch them very closely. We position them on their side near the caging, propped up by blankets, so that we can monitor their breathing and pull their ET tube when they’re ready.

Once they start coming to, they feel generally crummy for a little while. But soon they realize that they are on a pile of blankets on a heated floor, and what better opportunity is there to take a nice long nap?

Negra is starting to feel better this morning, slowly but surely. It’s best for her to remain apart from the group for a little while longer to give her toe a better chance of healing quickly. So she’s been grooming with her friends through the caging and getting indulged with special treats. But more than anything, she’s been focusing on what she does best: resting. This is a chimpanzee that knows how to follow doctor’s orders.


Positive Reinforcement Progress

Friday, November 13th, 2015

It’s been seven months since we started our Positive Reinforcement Training program. In that time, both the chimps and the staff have learned a lot.

We, the staff, have learned that training is a difficult skill to develop. As we try to teach new behaviors to the chimps, we are often just as confused and frustrated as they are, if not more so. It takes a lot of patience, creativity, and most importantly, experience, to become a good trainer.

The chimps have learned dozens of behaviors that will make their lives healthier and happier, and they’re starting to discover that cooperating with physical exams and other medical procedures doesn’t have to be scary – it can even be fun.

For his part, Burrito still thinks this whole thing is too good to be true – getting praised and rewarded with food, just for showing us his teeth? He would have done that for free…

But Burrito is not the only one making progress – stay tuned for updates on Annie, Foxie, Jamie, Jody, Missy, and Negra in the coming months.

Jamie’s exam

Friday, October 2nd, 2015

A while back, Jamie developed an abscess on her swelling that would not resolve. Thanks to our positive reinforcement training program, Jamie was letting Diana flush the wound twice a day with an antibiotic solution, but unfortunately it still wasn’t healing. So today, with the help of our wonderful vet, Dr. Erin Zamzow, and the long-distance support of board member Dr. Mensching, we decided to anesthetize Jamie to get a better look.

To say that Jamie was cooperative would be an understatement – it’s more like she’s a part of the veterinary team. We always have to isolate chimpanzees prior to anesthesia so that we can make sure they have an empty stomach and most chimpanzees quickly figure out what’s in store for them. As you can imagine, that can be quite stressful and scary. But Jamie spent the entire morning playing with her caregivers, seemingly without a care in the world. When the time came to induce anesthesia, she willingly presented her arm to Diana for injection.

Along with Dr. Zamzow, we were so grateful to have help today from Dr. Fuller of Ellensburg Animal Hospital, who brought a digital x-ray machine so that we could determine the extent of the wound and ensure there wasn’t a foreign body inside.

All in all it was good news: the injury wasn’t as extensive as we feared, and the x-rays all looked good. Dr. Zamzow was able to sterilize the wound and Diana will continue with the cooperative treatments until Jamie is fully healed. Right now, Jamie is enjoying some quiet time by herself in a room filled with blankets, with waiters on hand to give her sips of Gatorade whenever she desires.

When we are done with procedures, we position the chimps in a way that protects their airway as they recover, and to facilitate this we lay them on a couple of scarves with the ends passed through the caging so that we can gently roll them back into position if they slump over the wrong way. As soon as Jamie was up and about, she put a scarf right back to use as a fashion accessory. You can tell she’s feeling better already.




Bouncing Back

Monday, August 10th, 2015

Burrito’s been through a lot lately. In early June, he fractured a canine. The injury itself didn’t seem to phase him, but in order to prevent future pain and infection, we needed to extract the tooth. In late June, we performed an exam to do some blood work, check on his heart condition, and assess how he would do under prolonged anesthesia. And in late July, we performed the extraction.


Before he came to the sanctuary from the research lab in 2008, Burrito was sedated for procedures pretty frequently. The routine nature of these “knockdowns” probably didn’t diminish the fear associated with them. Until Burrito’s tooth ordeal, we’ve been incredibly lucky that none of the chimps here have required medical intervention beyond a dose of antibiotics here or there.


When you care for former lab chimpanzees, you hope that they know they’re safe now, and that they trust the difference between their current home and their former ones. We’ve spent the last seven years working to gain these chimps’ trust, and one nagging fear is that something will happen to lose you the trust you’ve earned.


Regardless of the fact that Burrito was surrounded by friends who love him and who want the best for him, it’s likely that the two procedures he had to undergo recently brought back some scary memories from his past life. And regardless of the fact that we’ve seen firsthand how incredibly resilient and forgiving chimps can be, it’s still hard not to fear that you’re going to push things too far and damage the relationships you’ve built.


But we shouldn’t have worried. Burrito has bounced back to his sweet, goofy, mischievous, happy self. His love for the simple things in life – a ripe avocado, a good grooming session, a long and loud bout of chase with a human friend – is as strong as ever. May we all strive to be as irrepressible as this guy.


Positive Reinforcement Training

Thursday, August 6th, 2015

A few months ago, we began a positive reinforcement training (PRT) program with the chimpanzees. (Read JB’s thorough description in this blog post.) Our ultimate goal with this program is to give the chimps the opportunity to participate in their own medical care, and to make it a positive experience for them. By teaching them to present certain body parts for inspection, for example, we will be better able to check on and treat wounds.

We started by teaching the chimps to touch a “target.” A target can be just about any object – we use PVC pipes with colored tape on the end. When a chimp touches the target, the caregiver who’s working with them presses a clicker (click = “good job”) and then rewards the chimp with a small piece of fruit or other treat. Once a chimp has learned this “targeting” behavior, we move on to asking for different body parts. The routine is the same – when a chimp presents the body part we’ve asked for, they hear a click and get a treat.

When we started this program in April, we invited Gail Laule from Active Environments to spend several days at the sanctuary training the staff on these positive reinforcement techniques. This week, Gail has returned to check up on our progress. Here are some photos from today’s sessions.

Jamie presenting her shoulder to Diana:


Jody opening her mouth while working with me (Elizabeth):


Annie presenting her back (Anna and Negra are on the right):


Negra “targeting” with Anna:


Negra presenting her shoulder:


Participation in this program is totally optional. The great thing about PRT, though, is that the chimps want to participate. It’s a win-win. It’s enriching for them (and for their bellies!) and the cooperative behaviors they learn are going to improve their lives by allowing us to give them the best care possible.