One day, Jethro and his buddy Regis sought me out to play. This was the first time a chimpanzee at Fauna showed any interest in having fun with me, and I was very touched. After weeks of wondering if I belonged at Fauna, Jethro and Regis took it upon themselves to make me feel welcome.
The pair, who at around 20 are two of the youngest chimps at Fauna, were already playing when I arrived on the scene. They were marching through the playroom together, on all-fours and in single-file, taking turns as the Pied Piper. But when they saw me, they came over to the caging that separated me from their world. Regis hung languidly from the bars in front of me, while Jethro slumped his massive frame to the floor and watched me intently. Then, once it became clear they had my attention, off they went again, huffing with laughter as they marched through the playroom.
Chimpanzees communicate many of their thoughts and feelings through gestures. One has to watch them very carefully to understand them. And when I saw Jethro and Regis occasionally looking back to see if I was following them, I knew they were subtly inviting me to play. Sadly, I couldn't follow. Humans are not allowed in the playrooms. So when the pair returned from one of their countless jaunts, I came up with a way to play with them.
As Regis and Jethro both watched, I slowly opened the sliding door that led outside to the inner courtyard. As I did so, Regis pulled back from the bars, a look of intrigue on his face. Then, as quickly as I could, I disappeared outside. I ran down the outside wall of the chimphouse in an awkward crouch. Then I popped my head up in the playroom window.
Regis was still looking out the door, wondering where I went. But Jethro, poor guy, spied me immediately. His huge body erupted in excited convulsions. His great belly shook with delight. Arms flailing, feet bobbing, head going in circles, Jethro tried to push himself up onto all fours, but his enthusiasm proved too great. As if tethered to the earth by his tremendous size, he fell backwards into the caging with a crash. Regis looked over at his floundering friend, but Jethro was still too excited to direct him my way.
For one glorious moment, Jethro the chimpanzee was completely speechless.
(photo: Frank Noelker)