Thursday, October 4, 2007

Day 32 -- A day in the kitchen

Chimp Haven is a bit harder to find than the other sanctuaries I've visited. The driving instructions are more complicated. I got turned around a few times (and swore profusely and stopped to ask for directions) but I finally made it there. But after all the driving, it turns out that no one was expecting me. Apparently a communications mix-up. And most of the staff was away for a special training session.

Despite my surprise appearance, I was warmly greeted. Rick, the PR guy, took me on a tour. Funny thing: As part of his job Rick monitors the web for mentions of Chimp Haven. Just the evening before he had found this blog.

Chimp Haven currently has about 115 chimpanzee residents -- most retired from medical research. At this stage there are two 5-acre forested yards so two groups at a time can roam in a natural setting. We stood on the roof of one of the buildings and watched one group gather for the treats they knew would be flying their way. Some sat just inside the woods. Occasionally the care givers use masking tape to link two bananas together ("banana numchuks") and when they are cleaning up the yard they can fling them into the trees so the chimps are motivated to climb. Although most of the Chimp Haven residents have spent all their lives in cages, many have taken to the trees -- especially the females.

Rick then introduced me to Mike, the enrichment tech (and the inventor of the banana numchuks). I was put to work in the kitchen filling devices with treats that the chimps would have to work to extract. The only guidelines were to use my imagination and to make some sugar-free treats for the group with a diabetic chimp. For the next several hours I smeared combinations of peanut butter, jelly, chocolate syrup, and bananas in the toys and sprinkled in cereal, popcorn or crushed cookies or crackers. The barbecue sauce was too runny to stick to anything, so I made it into a paste by mixing in instant mashed potatoes.

At first I was thinking too hard and moving pretty slowly, but after lunch I lost my food inhibitions, got a system going and was able to make it through the whole pile of gadgets that needed to be smeared. I accompanied Mike as he distributed some of the treats to a couple of the smaller groups. No one spit anything out.

Not sure what I'll be doing tomorrow. More toys to smear? A different kind of treat to concoct? Also, it's not clear whether I'll be able to work on Saturday as they may not be set up to accommodate volunteers on the weekend.

I managed to reverse the driving directions back to Shreveport with only a few missed turns and no major adventures (i.e., I didn't get hopelessly lost). Stopped for dinner at a catfish restaurant I had spotted the day before. Back at the motel this evening I watched too much TV. But, hey, all the new episodes are on.

And as I always seem to say, I'll add some photos later. (Maybe that will be a project tomorrow night?) But here is a 3-minute video from Chimp Haven (some sound) so you can see what I saw today.

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