August 15, 2016
When Raisin, one of the chimpanzees at Primarily Primates, was snatched from the wild and sold to a roadside petting zoo and then to Buckshire Corporation, which bred chimpanzees and also leased animals to research labs and the entertainment industry, her home and family were not the only things stolen from her—her birthday was too. Brooke Chavez, executive director of PPI, recalls that when she first starting working at the sanctuary two years ago, she noticed that a good portion of the chimpanzees didn’t have a birthday included in their paperwork if they were captured in the wild—instead there was just an estimation of their year of birth.
So Chavez decided to give the primates their birthdays back.
Raisin, 42, now shares Chavez’s birthday—July 16—and this year the celebration included decorating her habitat with streamers. Raisin also received gift bags filled with stuffed animals and Frisbees to share with the other chimps in her group— Buck, Mandy, April and Buffy.What several employees have done in lieu of gifts for their own birthday is they have asked friends and family to purchase gifts from the sanctuary’s Amazon wish list or from its in-kind donation list for the animal they share a birthday with.But birthdays at PPI are much more than showering animals with presents. They have become an opportunity to recognize accomplishments, express love and prompt reflection.
“We look at the accomplishments of the individual animal, such as in terms of a specific behavior,” Chavez said. “For example, Raisin used to like to take all the enrichment treats before the other subordinate females could get them. So what we have been working on with Raisin is cooperative feeding training—she is learning that if she waits to get her treats and lets the others have them first she knows she is going to get something extra special. We have been working on it with her since last October. So that’s an accomplishment.”Chavez said an accomplishment can also be something as simple as Buffy letting care staff touch her nails to trim them, or Raisin opening up her mouth when asked so care staff can look for any type of abscess or cavity.
“Birthdays also give us a chance to celebrate love,” Chavez said. “Whether the animal has been at the sanctuary a long time or not, he or she is loved by our staff beyond measure. And they are a time for reflecting where the animal has been and where they are going. We have an animal that is approaching 50. That is incredible to have a chimpanzee still be healthy at the age of 50. I attribute their longevity here to their great care that Friends of Animals helps us to provide for the animals here. We are so grateful that we have the opportunity to provide sanctuary for these animals and really make a difference in their lives.”And of course birthdays are about treats. “We always make a vegan birthday cake for every birthday animal that he or she can share with their group,” Chavez said.
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