This week has been the most satisfying yet (despite one major mis-hap).
Work began on the chimp facilities to improve the safety for the humans and the chimps. The welder was fantastic and the place is looking great. We have been meshing the connecting walls of the chambers so that Rosemary can’t reach through and grab a keeper when she is moved to the cage. Whilst I had the welder there I decided to splash out and build 4 platforms in the enclosure. investing in the current facilities I have to admit feels a little like polishing a terd but at this stage I am just doing what I can.
After replacing the old sliding rail for the door (as pictured below) Cecilia and Lucy were let into their end chamber.
The first thing chimps do when they see work has been done on their cage is inspect and test your work. After much perseverance Cecilia managed to break a padlock. But don’t worry, the keeper quickly replaced it with a brand new one before she managed to open the door. But wait, that one also didn’t pass the chimp test either and 10 minutes later the two females had broken it in two and were roaming the zoo grounds. Chimpanzees are extremely dangerous when they escape, luckily though these two females were not acting aggressive. Instead they went straight to the other side of the zoo were Rosemary is, walking straight past a stall selling biscuits and bananas to see their old friend. It brought tears to my eyes as I saw the girls reach straight into Rosemary’s cage and embrace her. They were all over each other, a big mass of limbs and smiles as the old friends finally got to see each other again. The first hug poor Rosemary has had in years.
After suitably greeting each other for several minutes Lucy came up towards me. She then walked towards me, seeking reassurance. She was terrified. She reached out her arm, audibly breathed heavy short breaths (this is how chimpanzees greet) and we hugged. I tried to lead her down towards her cage but she was scared. I groomed her and tried to reassure her and eventually with the help of some keepers who she considers friends, some ice cream and some patience she voluntarily got back in her cage.
I have witnessed several chimpanzee escapes in the different sanctuaries I have worked in, its something that all facilities in Africa have to deal with. Facilities also rust and deteriate a lot faster in Africa because of the humidity. Chimps are extremely clever as well as 5-6 times stronger than us! Luckily a volunteer is coming out in a couple of weeks from the UK and we are trying to arrange for him to bring some padlocks that aren’t cheap Chinese knock-offs. Unfortunately Ghana doesn’t have quality control standards like us so are used as a dumping ground for the cheap products we would’t use to wipe are arses with.
It seems appropriate that this week I tell you a bit about Lucy…
Lucy is an older female chimp who I am told has been at the zoo for 25 years. She is more disturbed than some of the other chimpanzees and displays several abnormal behaviours. These include a sideways walk whilst clutching genitals, smearing feaces, regurgitating food, rocking, eating feaces, posturing (holding a unusual posture like a statue for a prolonged amount of time) and self-hitting. It’s hard to know what caused these behaviours, but at her age it is unlikely they can be stopped completely.
Her life isn’t all bad though, she is close with Cecilia her cage-mate, she enjoys her food, and spends much of her time trying to observe the rest of the zoo from the top of the cage (hence the platforms). Lucy is very gentle yet very anxious and finds small things such as passers by very stressful. Lucy is a kind natured chimp and shares her food with Cecilia peacefully, she is often found grooming Cecilia very gently. Hopefully soon she will have her old friend Rosemary back too.
Next week I will add fire hose (donated from Avon fire service) leaves, logs, branches and a water pool to the cages. I will also get the wood cut to complete the platforms for the chimps cage. The zoo is having the cage painted aswellm which will make it look nicer for visitors and prevent rusting. We will then be ready to move Rosemary and I will start my second study period. I am exited and relieved to start trying to improve things for these guys, and just hope that there will be some lasting change.