Playing With Chimps – Project Chimps

Playing With Chimps – Project Chimps

By Jalil Goosby

Chimpanzees are portrayed in films as perfect playful companions to humans. This couldn’t be further from the truth! Playing with chimps can be a very tricky task. Chimpanzees are very strong, several times stronger than humans despite being a bit smaller than we are. 

This size difference between our species is misleading as chimpanzees are dense with muscles. In fact, because of their low body fat ratio, these top-heavy creatures aren’t able to naturally float in water the way that humans can.

Caregivers at Project Chimps keep physical interaction with chimpanzees to a minimum. This is mostly to help provide as close to a natural environment as possible for the chimps while keeping our caregivers safe. So for the sake of safety, playing physically with chimps is a no-go at the sanctuary.

Playing with Chimps Like Haylee

Meet Haylee, a 15 year old female at the sanctuary. Known for her long arms and chaotic energy, Haylee loves to have fun with other chimps in her group. Despite being the youngest in the group, she’s often the chimp causing the most ruckus. She loves getting her group mates to play when she wants to.

Haylee loves to spend time with her best friend, Tristen, another female in her group. The two will often share meals and even enrichment with each other, a sign of their deep bond. But sometimes, Haylee has her eyes on different playmates.

Haylee and Tristen exploring the Peachtree Habitat.

A chimpanzee having fun is certainly hard to ignore. After all, they can be cute and sometimes downright silly. And shockingly, it seems that Haylee knows this too. Thanks to some creative thinking, Haylee knows how to get caregivers to play with her as well.

A Creative Workaround

The game starts with her favorite toy, a Ycozy brand rubber stick. This long, flexible toy gives Haylee many options when it comes to playtime. Made for large dogs with strong jaws, this thin rubber stick is durable enough to be roughly handled by a chimpanzee. But caregiver Alan Bergman revealed that Haylee had found a new use for her toy.

Alan shares that recently, Haylee has been spotted playing a game that caregivers affectionately call ‘fishing for humans’. In the wild, chimpanzees often use things like sticks as tools to ‘fish’ for hard to reach treats like ants and termites. Just like her wild counterparts, Haylee also uses tools to get what she wants. Which in this case, is a human friend to play with.

According to Alan, Haylee will stick her toy through the mesh of the enclosure, hoping for a human to take the bait, and when they do, this friendly game of tug-of-war is on.

“It is very hard to not be enticed by her sticking the toy out looking to play,” says Alan, “We try our best to give a good tug, but of course, after a while she always wins. She has this funny way of falling backwards after she wins, laughing the whole time.”

Thanks to a sharp mind and a little bit of creativity, Haylee has found a new way to play with her human caregivers, mixing tool-use with fun. Playing with chimps at the sanctuary has never been safer for humans and chimps alike!

If you’d like to donate to help the many chimps at the sanctuary find their own ways to play, we invite you to visit our Amazon Wish List. Or visit the Ways to Give page on the Project Chimps website.

Jalil is a 2024 Communications Intern

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