Chimp Haven is made up of people like you. The organization has a staff of 45 individuals who come from diverse backgrounds, but have one thing in common: they are dedicated to advancing chimpanzee welfare. We want to shine the spotlight on these staff members who are making a positive difference in the lives of our residents.
Sarah is a 25-year-old from New Palestine, Indiana who earned her bachelor’s degree in Psychology at Purdue University. Before starting her career at Chimp Haven, she worked with a variety of species as an intern at the Oglebay Good Zoo and she even trained with Winter from the movie Dolphin Tale while working as a Marine Mammal Training intern at Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Later, she’d go on to become a full time zookeeper at the Tanganyika Zoo in Kansas.
Although she enjoyed her time with the various animals at the zoo, she decided it was time to follow her dream of working with great apes.
What ultimately led to your job at Chimp Haven?
I’ve always loved animals and I’ve wanted to work with great apes for a while because of their intelligence and the fact that they’re so much like us. I was especially interested in being a part of chimps’ post-lab retirement life. Originally, I had wanted to work with dolphins once I graduated, but I hated being wet all the time!
What’s your favorite part about your job?
The bonds I’ve built with the chimps. It’s like hanging out with my best friends every day. I really like when a quieter chimp who has never been on my radar will start to warm up to me and be more social with me. So, seeing relationships with the chimps grow is my favorite thing.
…and the least favorite?
Losing a chimp. We’re a geriatric facility, so it’s expected, but it’s still hard. Even though it’s an absolutely awful feeling when a chimp passes, I always think how thankful I am to have been a part of their retirement, knowing that they were loved, and got to simply be chimps the last few years of their lives. And I still have more than 200 other friends that rely on me to care for them, so I tell myself I have to work that much harder to make these days special for the ones that are still here.
You talk about the bonds you have…who do you have the strongest bond with?
Hayden! We’ve had a connection since day one. I can tell he likes me because he never throws anything at me and he does his “Hayden dance” when I’m around. It’s just him bopping back and forth. And now I’m his trainer for positive reinforcement training, which we use to encourage the chimpanzees to show different body parts on command so that the veterinarian staff can better assess their health. So it’s pretty cool that we’ve gone from just pals to working together, and he loves learning new things during his training sessions. The coolest part is when you see how the training pays off. Hayden had a minor wound on his toe the other day and because of his training he held his foot up on command so the veterinarian could get a good look at it and she was able to treat it.
Hayden presents his finger during a positive reinforcement training session.
What do you want people to know about your job?
It might seem glamorous, but it includes a lot of sweat and dirt. And poop!
Why should people support Chimp Haven?
I’ve never worked somewhere that provides the quality of care we are providing here. I’ve never seen so many different departments come together as one so well, with the best interests of the animals always in mind.
What advice do you have for people who want to help chimpanzees?
Educate yourself about the species – the more you know, the better!