Hi! My name is Libby and I am a supervisor in a section called “The Hill” at Primarily Primates. Although I have only been a caregiver at Primarily Primates for seven months, I have grown immensely as both a person and a caregiver. I credit this to the twelve chimpanzees for which I provide care. Through the husbandry, feeding, enrichment and projects I perform every day, I learned several life lessons from my chimpanzees and I want to share some with you.
1. Forgiveness and trust—
All of the primates at Primarily Primates have been rescued from exploitive and abusive backgrounds, including biomedical research, the entertainment industry and the exotic pet trade. Each chimp has come from a heartbreaking story, whether they suffered from invasive hepatitis research or they were forced to perform on television. Their lives were deprived of freedom, and some were neglected and abused. However, despite all odds being against them, the chimps have learned how to forgive and to trust again. They learned to trust both their fellow chimp troop mates and the caregivers at Primarily Primates.
Allow me to introduce you to Koko, a 37-year-old male chimp. Prior to his arrival at Primarily Primates, Koko was known as the “Pittsburgh-Rent-A-Chimp.” Koko was routinely rented out to perform at various parties, and when he wasn’t performing, his owners kept him shackled to the floor in their unfinished cement basement. Today, Koko is one of the most social and outgoing chimps on The Hill. He always greets visitors and care staff with his “kissy face” and is often found grooming his troop mates, Chobe and Willie. Despite Koko’s upbringing and past years of abuse and neglect, he learned how to forgive and to trust again.
2. Eat your fruits and vegetables—
There is nothing better than indulging in your favorite foods! Each chimp on The Hill has their produce preferences, the fruits and vegetables that make them let out a pant hoot, and the produce that they leave abandoned in the grass. Feeding time at the sanctuary can get a bit rowdy. When the chimps hear the wheelbarrow of produce roll up the hill, a roar of excitement and pant hoots fill the air. While Chobe loves broccoli and gobbles it up first, Effie will throw a head of broccoli outside the boundary of her habitat to get it as far away from her as possible. Some of the chimps prefer less traditional produce. Cheetah loves eggplant and Willie loves jicama, while others, like Walter, keep it simple and prefer a juicy tomato.
3. Family first—
Protect your troop! Walter, a 25-year-old chimpanzee that was forced to perform on a European television show prior to receiving sanctuary, is dedicated to protecting his troop. His social group is composed of six chimps: Laura, Nicole, Vanessa, Effie and Jessie. These chimps come from various backgrounds including both the entertainment industry and research. Despite their differences in upbringing, the group is extremely close knit. While Effie and Nicole are biological sisters, all of the girls are inseparable; they sleep on a single platform together. These chimps spend all day playing and grooming. Their relationships are resilient and they manage to resolve issues amongst themselves, even after a debacle.
4. Treat yourself to a spa day
You are absolutely allowed to indulge with a day of relaxation and pampering, especially during sanctuary life, and that’s what our chimps do best! At any given time walking up to The Hill, you will find the chimps grooming each other. Grooming serves multiple purposes for chimpanzees, including not only cleaning but also bonding with troop mates. Chimps that are close friends will groom and care for another by running their fingers through each other’s hair, removing any dirt, dead skin, or bugs.
5. Age is just a number
Try telling Violet that she is almost 56 years old—she won’t listen! Violet is the oldest chimp on The Hill and the second oldest chimp at Primarily Primates. But trust me, she certainly doesn’t act like it. Violet is young at heart, outgoing and spirited. She loves to explore her habitat and relax by watching a movie (either Disney or a Jane Goodall documentary). One of her favorite things to do is to look at her reflection in my phone’s selfie mode, admiring her timeless beauty.
6. Enjoy your sanctuary life—you deserve it!
Last but not least, enjoy living the life that you deserve! At Primarily Primates the animals are finally truly free. They have the freedom to choose how they wish to spend each day. They have the luxury of forming relationships with primates of their own kind. They do not have to work or perform. Most importantly, they can simply be primates. Primarily Primates offers a safe haven to hundreds of deserving primates that have sacrificed so much in the past. Each and every animal can live the rest of their lives in peace, surrounded by animals and people that love and care for them.