When I was a young girl, I tried to befriend everyone in school. In particular, I tried to include kids who didn’t have a lot of friends and who were often overlooked. Today, I find that I still have a soft side for the underdog. I think that is why I have such a fondness for certain chimpanzees at Chimp Haven such as Chaka, Connie, and Zort.
Chaka is a special-needs chimpanzee who exhibits many symptoms that are synonymous with autism in humans. He likes Gregorian chant music and colorful birds. I was told about a time when a caregiver brought her parrot to Chimp Haven. Chaka was mesmerized. Typically, Chaka has difficulty paying attention and connecting with others. However, when he saw the colorful bird, he sat quietly and gazed at it. When it was time for the bird to leave, Chaka cried. This story touched my heart, making me realize just how special Chaka is.
Zort, a middle-aged male who is HIV positive, is a playful chimpanzee. When I visit Zort and his group, he likes to play games with me. He will sit by the lixit and fill his mouth with water. That is his prompt for me to show him my boots. He then carefully squirts water onto the toe of my shoe and then gives me a big smile. He loves to see my reaction (I pretend to be surprised each time). Zort may play this water game with others, but I like to think it is our special sport.
I walk past Connie every day when I arrive to work. Connie, who is missing a leg, carries a baby doll head with her at all times. While it may seem odd to some to see a chimpanzee carrying a baby doll head, watching how gentle she is with it makes me see how nurturing Connie is.
We have so many special chimpanzees at Chimp Haven, each with their own interests, quirks and personalities. I am so grateful that they each can call this wonderful place home for the remainder of their lives.