These first days and weeks with Dolly and Blackie have been very special. I wanted to get some news to you as soon as possible as I am sure you are all anxious to hear how our new residents are doing.
It is always scary and can be dangerous for chimpanzees to leave the surroundings they have known for so many years to go to a new place. The move can be stressful and there is no guarantee they will be happy in their new home. We have experienced all scenarios here at Fauna and have witnessed great joy upon arrival and at times seen deep sadness. We are very aware of the dangers in relocating chimpanzees, especially the increased risks when moving elders.
When we first got the call from Parc Safari giving us the sad news of Daisy’s passing from diabetes, we were shocked. We had known of Daisy’s condition for some time and we were deeply dismayed by her death at such a young age. We know all too well that diabetes is a serious health condition as we live this every day with our Regis, who, at 28, is the same age Daisy was. It is a difficult disease to manage, especially with individuals who cannot tell us how they feel all the time. Our animal caregivers are very alert and notice all sorts of behavior changes and small details that can help greatly in managing the disease, but we are always aware of the fact that things can change at any moment. I am thrilled to report that welcoming Dolly and Blackie to Fauna has been a very positive experience for almost everyone, most certainly for Dolly and Blackie.
For the past 10 years or so, Dolly and Blackie were part of a family group of four. (There were others in their family who had passed away earlier.) Dolly, Blackie, Renee, and Daisy lived together at the zoo. Renee was Daisy’s mom and they both passed away this year. Renee died last winter and Daisy just 3 months ago, leaving behind Dolly and Blackie. These two have lived together, had children, lost children, made and lost friends, and shared many experiences together in the 43 years they were at the zoo. They could likely have known each other before that as they both came from Dallas, Texas in 1973 when Dolly was 6 and Blackie was 4 years old.
We met Dolly, Blackie, Renee and Daisy more than 12 years ago when we had a call from the previous Zoo manager who wanted to lease our male chimpanzees to father children to the Parc Safari four. This was not something we would ever consider. It was a rather strange experience but it gave us insight into the way some people care for animals in zoos. At that time, Parc Safari had sub-standard indoor housing for the chimpanzees during the winter months and the summer exhibit was not much better. They had a small green space with a small ditch around it. They had one climbing structure and a big rock to sit on; not the most comfortable or natural for chimpanzees, especially older ones. At the time we invited the management and staff to come and visit Fauna. During their visit, they were introduced to some ideas for a new indoor building and learned from our chimphouse what works and would be better for their chimpanzees. Eventually, they did build a night house for the chimps and it became their winter quarters as well. However, something the chimps never got was indoor/outdoor access all year long.
We offered assistance in many areas over the years. Sometimes we were welcomed to go and do enrichment and other times it was not a possibility. About two years ago we were called once again, this time to ask for help with Daisy and concerns about her diabetes. The zoo knew of our chimpanzees and their health issues so it was normal to reach out to others who had experienced the same problems. We did all we could to help by sharing as much information as possible about our experiences as well as offering our resources. We had kept in contact with the chimps as much as they would permit and were there for them every time they called for help. Dr. Allan helped, Trina, our vet tech helped, as did Dr. Bezner in Florida. Our staff volunteered their time and went to enrich and visit. It was very important to us to help these chimps.
When the truck drove up to Fauna on November 28, the humans at Fauna were ready, and although I had told our chimps about the new residents, I’m not too sure it all sunk in–the chimps of Fauna were quite surprised! The first screams of surprise came from Tatu who was the first one to see the new residents. Loulis, Spock, Sue Ellen and Binky also got a look as they were in locations where they could see the truck and the folks inside as it arrived.
While Tatu was shocked to see there were chimpanzees inside the cage in the truck and although she was curious, there were other emotions going on as well. Like us, there may be excitement in meeting new friends but there are also other feelings. Of course, as those vocalizations came out of Tatu, Spock, and Sue Ellen, all the other chimps inside the building knew there were new friends arriving. Binky was running up and down the skywalks trying to see what was going on and waiting patiently inside as the cage was rolled into the building.
Dolly and Blackie were wonderful on the trip. Thankfully the zoo is only 45 minutes away from Fauna so the journey was a short one. They were curious and excited when they saw their new home and once the door to the truck was open, they greeted the four chimpanzees that were in the skywalk overhead. As they waited for their zoo team of 6 people to take the cage off the truck they grew more and more impatient–it was clear they were ready to get out!
Once we started moving their cage into the building the Fauna folks looked on in silence. Our welder, Daniel Martin, was there to assist in the move and make sure their transfer cage was securely attached to the rooms they would first enter. Daniel has been here for every arrival since 1997! He is as much a part of the family as anyone here. Thank you Daniel, for another safe arrival.
We chose a section in the building called Jeannie’s area for Dolly and Blackie to live in for the first weeks. This is a section near the clinic and the kitchen and would offer a little more privacy for those first weeks. Jeannie used to live in this area and after renovations years ago, this space was given an upstairs area with windows, heated floor, many resting benches and more privacy–something Jeannie valued and needed in her life. It is extremely different from the living spaces Dolly and Blackie were coming from.
Once the transfer cage was securely attached to the door of the receiving room and the locks were removed to let Dolly and Blackie into their new home, there was a little malfunction with the door. A simple adjustment needed to made as a handle was in the way of the transfer cage door opening smoothly. However, this was not acceptable to Dolly! She was ready and she was not in the mood for any more delays! So, like many of the great female chimpanzees I have met, Dolly started to assist with the opening of the door into her new home. In that moment she reminded me of Annie and her arrival at Fauna and how ready she was for a new life. It also reminded me of Dana, the matriarch of Save the Chimps back in the beginning with Dr. Carole Noon. To be in the presence of such amazingly strong chimpanzee ladies is something special indeed. God Bless them and their courage, tenacity, and strength.
Once Dolly started to help the guys open the door, Blackie realized this was what she needed to do too! With two chimpanzees assisting the three men who were struggling, the door was finally opened. They were so excited and they wanted to get out of the cage and into their new home.
This was a special moment indeed. As they entered the rooms in Jeannie’s area and began to pant hoot to the others, everyone was very aware of the situation and very anxious to say hello to these new friends. The building was alive and everyone was excited! Apples were baking in the oven, the staff buzzed around caring for all, the rooms were enriched with welcome home banners, cozy warm blankets, and straw, the fireplace was roaring and it was like Christmas morning for everyone in the chimphouse. (To view a video of Dolly and Blackie entering the chimphouse, check out this Facebook post.)
Jeannie’s space has been absolutely perfect for Dolly and Blackie as they can have their much-needed privacy or can observe and see what’s happening in the building–but disappear when they feel the need. If they so choose, they can come downstairs to interact with the humans or for meals, or stay upstairs tucked peacefully in the private spaces and be served their snacks and meals.
Two of their favorite spots so far are in a corner where there are windows all around, or in the window overlooking the rest of the building. The windows to the outdoors are a perfect place to watch the staff that drive around the building and observe all the outdoor activities. The windows are also perfect for lying in the sun. These windows with their view of the action on Fauna’s roads were also a favorite place of Lou when he first moved in.
We were lucky to have NJ Wight, our very own chimpanzee photographer, come over a few times to visit and get some lovely photos of our new friends during their first weeks. The other day Nancie joking said, “I think I have a photo of Dolly eating every vegetable imaginable!” Blackie, on the other hand, has definitely been the photography challenge! Chimpanzee photography is most challenging, especially through bars. However, Nancie managed to get, as she says, “a few good ones” for the calendar and for you. (I think they are all wonderful.)
Dolly and Blackie continue to make a huge nest in the window area where they lay and groom each other or share a snack, a popular pastime. Dolly will try ALL the new foods we offer her, but Blackie does not. She observes Dolly while she eats and explores new foods, but she is hesitant to try anything until Dolly does first. It’s quite something to observe, and of course, Dolly is thrilled to get twice as much. Blackie seems to derive great pleasure from just watching Dolly eat anything.
The second favorite spot is the window that overlooks the rest of the chimphouse where all the other folks live–this space offers something different. The nest is made close to the window but not in front of it and this way they can lay and look out without being seen. They can quickly pop up to look out when they hear the others, and they can interact with their new friends from a safe location and not be bothered by the more rambunctious neighbors. It is a more interactive spot and when they are feeling up to visiting and observing they choose this location but for resting and tranquility they choose the other.
We were told Dolly and Blackie love using straw for nest making, so we provided that along with lots of blankets. We weren’t sure they would use the blankets because at the zoo they really didn’t offer them regularly. We saw immediately that they loved making huge nests with not just straw but with lots and lots of cozy blankets. (They also include used brown paper bags from their snacks, wrapping paper from their gifts, scarves and empty boxes from their enrichment!) The nests are awesome, not quite as elaborate as Yoko’s used to be, but not far from it. As Mary Lee said, “the nest was big enough for a t-rex to lay a clutch of eggs.” Free-living chimpanzees build nests each night to sleep in and day nests for daytime naps. It is lovely, healthy to see these natural behaviors.
Watching Dolly and Blackie make nests reminded me of those first days at Fauna 19 years ago when Annie, Donna Rae and Pepper were here. Those days were some of the most moving for me; to see how important nest making was to chimpanzees that had previously been deprived of making such elaborate nests for themselves. It broke my heart.
I have to say, for me personally, I have had some very special flashbacks and reminders of those sweet and special early days with some of my dear friends. The love Dolly and Blackie have for one another and the special bonds they share, their friendship and trust and the way they are always there for each other, holding hands, hugging, and following each other, has reminded me of the lovely times with our friends who have passed. Annie, Donna Rae, Pepper and Sue Ellen were the four at Fauna who lived this way sharing strong bonds and alliances and strength in their loyalty to one another. This is what Dolly and Blackie share too, more certainly because they have been together for 43 years. What a beautiful relationship to see.
Their nest sharing is also very sweet and not often seen here. I used to love to see how folks would lay in Annie’s nest when she would be off doing something else. It was like getting into a super comfy bed and enjoying it for a few moments or for a short nap until Annie would return and recover her elegant nest. Pepper, Donna Rae and even Rachel and Chance would rest in her nests and it always a sight to see. These days at Fauna we get to see Loulis doing similar things. He loves to lie in Sue Ellen’s nests when she leaves them, and now we can see Blackie using Dolly’s nests too, or sharing them.
It is also really wonderful to see how interested Dolly and Blackie are in the other residents of Fauna. They have met everyone now through the caging. Of course, not everyone is as welcoming and that is normal, but it is easy to see there are already some relationships developing. We are just giving it a little bit of time to see how everyone does and then we hope to introduce some folks to one another.
Our caregivers have begun to develop relationships with Dolly and Blackie and are working hard to find favorite foods, working on routines and schedules to help make the transition less stressful. We realize a new life and new adventures can be exhausting and I would assume that any day now they will start to wonder what the heck happened. It is normal for this to happen and like us, we grow used to things and old ways and it is important for us to find similarities in routines to help us adapt more quickly.
Thankfully some of our staff had been going to the zoo to help with enrichment and getting to know the chimps. Kaeley, Mary Lee and I had all met Dolly and Blackie before. We knew Renee and Daisy too and saw how the days were structured at the zoo so it was easier for us to respect some of their traditions and schedules. We will soon see old habits replaced with new ones and the one we’ve noticed so far is the tradition of eating chow which has been very quickly replaced with eating fresh produce, cooked food and super healthy muffins.
All chimpanzees in captivity are given chow to eat every day and it is the principal food served. At Fauna this is not the case. We serve leafy greens most of the day, root vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes and nuts. We also include a long list of spices and many other foods for their nutritional value and support as well as some chow.
The first days are always an experience so I thought I would share what happened on their very first night. After the hectic day Dolly and Blackie had with the move and all the changes, we tried to keep things peaceful and make sure everyone went to bed at the usual time. Naturally, everyone was exhausted that day and the humans were greatly relieved the move went well.
As you may know, we do sometimes go back into the chimphouse at night to see how everyone is doing and we have cameras that Mary Lee and I can watch from home or on our phones. On their first night, I did go back. I entered the chimphouse at about 9:00 pm and everyone seemed to be sleeping. I could hear snoring from many locations and then another noise, which sounded like snapping. As it turned out, it was some very loud crunching on vegetables coming from Jeannie’s upstairs area. I went up to look and there were Dolly and Blackie sitting up eating raw turnip and carrots. I was relieved they were fine and it was a great sound to hear–they were eating and seemed quite comfortable.
With a few lights on and activity in the chimphouse, some of the others began to come down into the rooms in front of the kitchen to see what was going on. I went back downstairs and turned on the kettle. I decided to prepare and serve some warm ginger water and some oranges. With cold season upon us, we try to make sure the chimps receive lots of warm drinks and plenty of vitamin C. From the kitchen I could see the two little heads hanging upside down watching what was going on. Dolly was there at the top of the staircase curious and excited about the oranges but wasn’t going to take the trip down the stairs in the dark. Being the first night in their new home with unfamiliar surroundings, it was normal she wouldn’t venture downstairs. So I went upstairs to serve Dolly and Blackie along with their new neighbor, Tatu, who was up and no doubt wondering why I was there.
They both happily came over to take the oranges but when I put the hot tea on the trolley only Dolly took it. It was a new experience for Dolly having a hot tea served on a trolley! It takes coordination and caution when moving it off the cart and in through the little hole, then safely onto the floor or into your hand so you don’t spill the hot drink. Dolly did it with ease and confidence, lowering the drink onto the floor, bending over to smell what was in it then picking it up carefully to take it to her night nest.
When we had left the building at 5:00 that day, Dolly had made her first nest near the window overlooking the inside of the chimphouse. The nest had now been relocated to the more private corner space and had turned into “a nest for two” where she and Blackie were sleeping together that first night. Dolly took her cup of tea to the new nest location. She put it down then lay over it to sip it carefully. Blackie was there observing very closely but not drinking. After Dolly drank most of her tea they both came over to take the oranges and sat happily food grunting along with all the others who were awake and eating.
The first day and first night were over! I have found the transition has gone quite well and it is as though they have been here a long time. The ease with which they settled in and embraced our traditions and routines was remarkable. There had been no doubt in my mind, just like there was no doubt in my mind when I first met Jeannie and her family, that they would be better off once they got out of where they were living–and they certainly are!
On day three we opened the door to outdoors, not the Islands yet, but to the wonderful skywalks the chimps of Fauna love so much. Dolly and Blackie went out immediately and explored the space opened to them and then when Dolly wanted to go back in, Blackie was right behind her. Dolly realized that she could go in if she chose and then she could go back out again–this was a new experience for them. At the zoo, when you go out you are locked out all day until you come back in at the end of the day when the zoo visits are over. Or, as it was at Parc Safari, once the season ends at the zoo you go inside and don’t get let out again until 6 months later when the zoo reopens up for visits!
The experience of going in and out was a first for them and one that they truly seemed to enjoy and embrace. They kept checking behind the flaps to see if the door was really still open. Then they would go out one more time, then back in, then back out and in and out…what a joyous surprise it was for them. We all can’t wait for those lovely winter days when the doors are open and the sun is shining brightly and the skywalks are warm and cozy so our new friends can experience the fresh air every day, all year long. Fingers crossed for better weather as lately there has not been much outdoor activity.
Each day has been a new experience for everyone here and it seems the most curious to meet the new friends are Binky, Jethro, Tatu, Loulis, Toby, and Petra. Chance is still really unsure and seems a little insecure right now, and I think perhaps Maya is not that thrilled at the moment. It’s a strange thing isn’t it, meeting new friends? There are so many emotions involved and not always positive; fear, jealousy, and insecurity are part of it for sure, as it can take years to develop close bonds with someone.
We look forward to the day when some folks get to experience new friendships. We have seen it before and will see it again but there is no rush. For now, we are delighted just to see how Dolly and Blackie react to the little things, like Christmas stockings, hot meals, blankets, brushes, mirrors, favorite foods, hot beverages, smoothies, muffins and simply adapting to their new home.
This is a joyous time for all of us at Fauna. I can only say how grateful I feel and how blessed to have such dear and special souls in our lives. I can’t talk about gratitude without talking about you and how grateful I am for you in our lives. For your kindness, your compassion, respect, and commitment to the Chimps of Fauna. Your support and faith in us gives us the confidence to accept these new residents and know we can do something wonderful for them; to give them a happier and more fulfilling life. You have helped make Fauna a very special place–and a place where all the chimpanzees in Canada now currently reside.
Thank you for all the love and support you have shown us, we couldn’t have done it without you.
You can read more about Dolly and Blackie in our post Fauna Welcomes Blackie and Dolly.
Dolly and Blackie are part of the Fauna Fourteen 2017 calendar! Proceeds from caledar sales go directly towards supporting the chimpanzees. You can order this on our SHOP page!