I met Tatu in 1995, while she was living at CHCI. At that time, Tatu was living with her whole family; Washoe, Moja, Dar and Loulis. I was there on an Earthwatch Mission for only two weeks, but each day we were given the opportunity to observe and document how the chimpanzees were using their space. It was a life-changing experience for me and, one that forever changed my fate and destiny and apparently now Tatu’s too…
I did not get to know Tatu then, nor can I say I really know her now. I know about her past. I know how she lived, who her family is and I got to spend some time with her before she came to Fauna, however not enough to say I know her though. What I can talk about is the Tatu I have begun to know and what I have learned about about her so far.
Tatu is totally fascinating. She is intelligent, quick to understand what’s going on and very engaging. She is interactive, curious and very wise. Growing up in a cross-fostered environment has put her in a rather unusual position and given her a wide range of skills. She has so many human behaviors, yet is also completely chimp like…It makes one step back and scratch their head and say, “Who are you and why are you in there, locked behind bars?”
Of course, I have always felt that way about chimpanzees and over the years with many others I have known (seeing how intelligent they are, realizing how much we have taken from them) has always been difficult.
However, it is just a little more disconcerting when Tatu starts to use sign language, because it is clear she is communicating in a language humans should be able to understand and wanting to know what she is asking for or needing becomes extremely important to me.
I find myself wanting to have conversations with her, yet I realize I still do not have any method of communicating, because presently, my sign language is so limited and of course I have restricted communication in chimpanzee, too.
Seeing Tatu sign and ask for things, like to ask to go in a room or out of a room, to ask for someone to groom her or to sign ‘sorry’ to another chimpanzee next to her is just “other worldly” really.
Tatu knows what she wants and she is ready for adventure and to make new friends. She has caught the eye of all the Fauna residents, everyone wants to meet Tatu, and she wants to meet them too.
It was so hard to keep her from everyone while she was in quarantine. Each day she would ask to go in with her closest neighbor, Sue Ellen, signing ‘in’, then ‘friend’. She clearly knew what she wanted and was ready to get started on her new life after her first days of sadness, after leaving her home and her friends in Ellensburg.
I was there when she made her first new friend at Fauna, saw her interact with Sue Ellen through the bars, then when the door was opened as Tatu requested. She just ran to Sue Ellen and hugged her, knowing from her side of the bars that Sue Ellen was okay and would not hurt her. They have been together ever since.
To see Sue Ellen watch over her those first days and weeks was lovely. Sue Ellen is older and not nearly in as good shape as Tatu, but in her big sister role she doesn’t have to do much, just be there for Tatu while she takes on the Fauna world and 11 new friends.
Tatu didn’t say much her first week at Fauna, but after her week of mourning, she became the great adventurer and had so much to say, she vocalizes all the time, really lets us know she is there. It’s wonderful.
No matter where she goes in a day and no matter how many new friends she makes through the bars, she returns each night to be with Loulis. Tatu and Loulis spend lots of time together. Their love for one another is very clear. They have been family for many years and that bond is very strong. They don’t spend each minute of each day together and that is normal, but they check in constantly…Tatu venturing off a little further than Loulis. She doesn’t wait for him to follow. She goes and then she comes back. It is a good system and it is very comforting for both of them. Tatu will most likely love a fision fusion lifestyle and with her ability to ask for doors to be open or closed, we can do everything possible to make that happen for her each day.
She has met everyone through the bars and recently signed ‘in’, with Spock. Spock and Tatu had groomed and played through bars, always sweet and respectful. At first, of course, Tatu was nervous, but as the weeks passed, she seemed to trust Spock and his intentions and he trusted her.
Opening the door between them was easy and wonderful. Instantly Tatu and Spock connected and played and hugged…it was so moving to see this new relationship, and to see Tatu find another good friend in Spock. He is kind. He is loving and he is loyal. Tatu has great taste.
After a few hours with Spock and Sue Ellen, Tatu always asks to go back to her comfort place and her bed…not far away from Loulis.
While she goes off and meets chimpanzee friends, Loulis plays with human friends. For his first weeks, they were his preference and naturally he always wants to be near Tatu. Sue Ellen spends days with Loulis, so he is not alone and they both wait for Tatu to come back and say ‘hi’. Which, of course, she always does.
Tatu is so present, so alive, so vivacious, so charming and outgoing…she has taken over and become a real voice in the chimp house…it has been remarkable and just such a joy to have her in our lives…all of us here at Fauna have had a rebirth, because of Tatu’s energy and her light. Tatu has the wit and wisdom to help guide her through the complex group of chimpanzees at Fauna. She is social, fun, engaging and strategic. She’s 98 pounds of personality and we can’t wait to get to know her more, share her new story and to be there, while she makes new friends, while she experiences all the choices she has daily and to be there for her while she makes them.
Tatu has so many relationships on the go right now, Toby, Rachel, Maya, Binky, Chance, Jethro, Regis, and Petra. Tatu has spent time with and interacted with everyone through the bars…who will be the next new friend in Tatu’s life, all of us want to know…
“Before I knew you, I thought brave was not being afraid. You’ve taught me that bravery is being afraid and doing it anyway.” —Laurell K. Hamilton