This is a guest post by wildlife photographer NJ Wight.
If Binky had been born in the wild he would have stayed with his Mother, nursing, for up to five years. Then he would have hung around a few more years learning how to care for his younger siblings in the troop. But Binky did not grow up in the wild. In 1989, Binky was born at LEMSIP (The Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates) and was allowed to stay with his Mother, in a small cage, for only three months.
During his eight years in the lab, Ch-665 as he was called, was knocked down by dart some 136 times, mostly for cage changes and teeth cleanings. He was used in four studies in seven years and was generally considered to be a “well-adjusted individual” — even though by the time he was three years old he was being treated for self-inflicted wounds.
Binky was one of the “lucky” ones. He was released into sanctuary at Fauna Foundation on September 12, 1997 when he was just eight years old. Binky has been able to live these past 20 years in a safe environment with other chimpanzees, where he is loved, respected, and given the freedom to make choices for himself. He has a better life now, but make no mistake, it is not a life of his choosing.
One day while I was taking photographs at Fauna, I saw Binky walk along the skywalk above me heading towards the back islands with something blue in his hand. I was curious to see what he was up to and so, after waiting a minute or two, I quietly walked to the back enclosure to see if he was visible to photograph. When I found him he was sitting all by himself up on a platform and looking into a small plastic mirror attached to a plush elephant. I didn’t want to startle him so I started humming quietly while I slowly moved towards the opposite side of the enclosure. He looked up and saw me and watched me for a few seconds and then returned to his mirror.
I have seen the chimpanzees grooming themselves, and each other, many times, but this was a first for me. Binky was holding the mirror in one hand while he groomed his feet, carefully licking between his toes. When he was finished, he moved on to his face and then his teeth. He did not take his eye off his reflection and his expression was very thoughtful and focused.
I started to click away as he continued to groom, moving slowly, trying to find small openings between the caging and surrounding gardens. I wanted to position myself in such a way that I might get lucky and capture his face in the mirror or the beautiful sunlight reflecting back.
Understandably, the chimps rarely follow my art direction so I rely mostly on stamina and luck! After several minutes with my arms extended and my shoulders starting to ache a little, Binky moved the mirror to just the right spot and a bounce of sunlight lit up his very handsome face. After five years as the paparazza to the primates the photograph below is certainly one of my very favourites and I was happy it was choosen for the front cover of the 2015 Fauna Annual Report.
Enrichment, which includes activities that promote physical activity and mental stimulation, is essential for the well-being of not just the chimpanzees living at Fauna, but for all captive chimps. In the wild there are ongoing challenges to engage their intellect and in sanctuary, the Fauna caregivers work very hard to provide enrichment in various forms. (See Enrichment with Mary Lee and Tatu for more.) Plastic mirrors are a favourite for some of the chimpanzees, but they enjoy lots of differnt kinds of toys. If you would like to donate enrichment items, you can consult these Everyday Items on the Fauna website.
Binky, I am blessed to know you. You are courageous, loving, kind and good. To look into your eyes is a gift to my soul.