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Dana Arrives In Lousiana
First Day At Chimp Haven
The following story was received in email today from LaughingRain's daughter who is now a volunteer at Chimp Haven. I was so proud of her I had to share this story with Hubbers interested in animal welfare programs. And now, I present this kid of mine who is trying to make a difference in the lives of forgotten animals.
Where do I begin? How do I begin to describe the emotions and visuals as I approached the main office of Chimp Haven....
I rang the callbox...gate opened...I drive in and park. As soon as I get out of my car I see this black being looking straight at me. He is sitting on top of a pole high above the grounds. Staring right at me, watching me approach. There is a cement wall between us but he is high and can see the land around him. Turns out his name is Henry. He was a pet. He is handsome from what I gather. His days as a pet were spent in a garage, in the dark, for 15 years. He refuses to go inside now. Even though it's super hot, he is the only chimp outside.
I go inside and meet my companions along this journey. C. from Buffalo, the Harvard student..she is tall and sweet. She laughs alot like young folk do....She's real nice. Don't know her much but I know I like her.
We went around and toured the grounds...I wish I could get closer but I know it's for my own good. I am in love. I cannot wait to begin my first day of training tomorrow. We have a serious schedule to keep and one of our lessons is in 'power tools' haha :)
My first week of training includes zoonotic diseases, Chimpanzee 101 and Natural History I and II...If we hear an air-horn we are to run to a safe zone. If an airhorn goes off it means a chimp has escaped. They have had four escapes since 1995. In one escape the whole group got out, all 8 of them. Mostly they just stroll around their enclosure. One small chimp even jumped into the arms of her caregiver. They don't know what to do with freedom when they have it. Some check out the neighbors, some go back into their enclosure...crazy.
Today we toured around and met many chimps brave enough to withstand the sweltering heat. They mostly stay inside their enclosures...smart. We drove out and met all the HIV chimps. There is one chimp named Tika..she has aids. One of only three chimps to acquire aids. What happened was that they infected her with full blown aids blood from a human then put it in her and her brother. They both have 'spots' all over them and so there they stay. All the chimps here will die here she tells us. This is their retirement place. Well at least they live in peace with food and heat and company as opposed to being alone within a cage. Sometimes I cry when I'm alone. They have a euthanize list of requirements and sometimes they will have to do this.
The oldest chimp here is 'grandma' and she is 58 years old. She keeps getting 'beat up' by Javier, the 16 year old. They say it's best not to move them around because this happens in the wild that they have to work it out themselves.
Today a new caretaker who was hired got trained with us interns. Turns out she is very young and has no experience whatsoever with chimpanzees. She has been to Africa to work with monkeys and worked with gorillas at the zoo for a short time. But they hired her...She came from New York. She got an apartment in Shreveport in the same complex as many other employees. Rent is around 750 with a 500 deposit. Seems reasonable.
There are three maintenance guys. One of them is pretty handsome :) and then I just met the night worker Mike and wow is he a tall dark drink of water. Ok so two handsome guys here lol :D I'm thirsty and hot, be right back gotta get water.
Other animals on the sanctuary, (wild!) deer...racoons...rabbits...two feral cats. The racoons...They sneak into the enclosures and steal the food at times, but they rarely make it out alive. In fact the chimps toy with them and let them think they are escaping up the fence but then they are pulled down again, killed and used as 'baby dolls'. Apparently "chimps are mean" according to the caretaker. But oh well...they carry the dead bodies around like babies.
Remember the movie "Rise of the Planet of the Apes?" Yeah...the movie studio was HERE at Chimp Haven recording all of the chimp sounds for three days and all the chimpanzee vocalizations in the movie are from OUR chimps :D So cool right?!
Today I met Tika, a small female chimpanzee who has AIDS. Chimps don't get aids, they can only acquire HIV but those bastards of scientists injected her with full blown aids from a human being THREE times and eventually gave her aids. She is a resilient soldier and a trooper. We marvel at her strength. She is amazing. She has sores on her body but acts fairly normal. We have two chimps here with missing leg each. They came from the lab that way, they were never told why the legs are gone. We have one chimp (Les) with chewed off ears from another chimp. My favorite is Henry. He is so amazing. Kept in a dirty filthy garage for 15 years living on trash and cokes. He refuses to go inside. He sits as high as he can watching the trees and the sky and us. The look in his eyes if I could only describe. He seems so content and at a peace with his surroundings. He is truly the most handsome chimp here in my opinion. We have a 'rodeo' chimp also. He used to ride horses and traveled in a rodeo. When they brought a horse to visit he got all excited. They were his friends.
I cry a lot when I get back to the trailer. The lives they 've lived are unimaginable. We have a lot of "wall walkers" these are the guys who lived in cages their entire lives. They don't know grass and they don't want to know. They only walk along the walls touching the bars and refuse to go out into the grass play area. They feel ultimately very insecure with their freedom. They do not understand what freedom is. They must touch concrete or metal to feel secure. That is the most heartbreaking thing to see.
All the chimps here will die here we are told. This is the last stop. They sedate them all each year for physicals, blood work, teeth cleaning and nail trimming. Next week when they sedate one, they are going to let us touch it and pet it while it is under anesthesia. I am excited and saddened at the same time. It will be the only time I ever touch a chimpanzee in my entire life I am sure.
I have to write a research paper within a month. I’ve been assigned to Kasey's group. Each group has an alpha male and this is Kasey. Kasey has been picking at the same wound for over 6 years, he got it in the lab. He won't stop. My group has 15 chimps. I have to study them and watch them and take notes on enrichment supplied and how they get along, etc. I'm learning all their names and faces. We have small Pearl. She is smooth and small and solid black. Then there is Karen. I recognize her by her crazy spiky hairdo. And Kasey has two small white dots under his nose. And then there is Jessika. She has abnormally large swelling in her groin due to heart disease (caused by the labs) she sits on her huge swollen gentials, it's a large black sack, she sits on it like a seat. It's sad. But here they are in the only good place they've ever known riddled with disease but at last, they are 'free'.... kind of.
This morning as I drank coffee on the back steps of my trailer I saw three chimps watching me across the way. It was amazing. Just watching me so early in the morning. Here we all are in the midst of a new day, free to do as they please and they chose to watch me drink coffee :)
The noises are amazing. Their vocalizations are so tremendous you really couldn't imagine how loud they are. First a oooh oooh oooh oooh and then a BANG!! They build up to an explosion. This goes on all day. They scream and yell all day...well...only the males. The females are pretty damn chill.
Today I'm beginning my research paper, but first I have to memorize 15 chimpanzee faces and names within Kasey's group. Kasey is the alpha. At first glance you think they all look the same but in fact they are individuals much like people and have variations in appearance. But you must pay attention. Some are large, some are small. Some are smooth and some are raggedy! We got to walk through their bedrooms (with bars between us) and this one called Midget spit water at me over and over!! It got in my eye and made my clothes all wet, I kept screaming and laughing so of course this made him do it over and over cause I was good entertainment!! These are non-infectious chimps I’m working with, they have no diseases. I've never had an experience like this before! He sees me coming, goes to his water and acts innocent and then when I'm not paying attention shoots a ton of water straight onto me from his mouth!! There is a poo thrower but I’m not doing his group thank God!! I guess someone once got poo thrown in their ear so deep they had to go to the ER room and get it removed lol. I know I know...gross but whatever.
I'm realizing just how loud, obnoxious and funny chimps are. WE are their entertainment essentially. Much like they are my entertainment. These are crazy days I’ll never forget. Amongst the madness my mind starts to float to the gentle orangutan and I wonder how amazing it would be to work with these gentle giants instead of crazy chimps. But I must tell you all that there are some chimps who are so sweet and subtle. There is one named grandma..she is 59...cataracts...really old... no teeth...everyone says she is so sweet you could take her to the store and grocery shop and she would just shuffle around sweetly, she always seems to smile and always has a 'baby' with her....I l do love her very much already :D
More coming every weekend when I get a chance to come to town to this lovely air conditioned Starbucks :)