Humans Vs Nonhumans

Hi my name is Kelsi and I am a server at the Iron Horse Brewery Pub! I often get asked at [ the pub ] – “Are you in school?” “What other work do you want to do later in life?” etc. Well, obviously I love sharing the wealth and knowledge of indie beer! However, my background is really in primatology (aka the study of chimps… seriously).  Some people will ask what I do for a living, and I’ll tell them I am a Chimpanzee Caregiver. Often someone responds with “Oh that is nice” or “ooh okay” like it is a normal thing to say. Seconds later they will say: “Excuse me, DID YOU SAY CHIMPS?” I guess what I do is not normal. I try to be pretty modest about it, but today I am going to gloat a little about my bizarre career choices.

I graduated from Central Washington University in 2014 with majors in Primate Behavior & Ecology, Psychology, and a minor in Anthropology.  Throughout college and after, I have been working as a chimpanzee caregiver. Most people haven’t heard of the Chimpanzee & Human Communication Institute (or CHCI). CHCI was a program at Central Washington University where we learned animal husbandry for 3 chimps who had acquired the language of sign. Really guys… No big deal… I just worked with some of the most famous chimps in psychology.  One of the chimps from CHCI, Loulis, is the only nonhuman to have ever acquired a language from another nonhuman. I followed the chimps that were on the CWU campus to Montréal Canada where they moved after their family of 5 dwindled down to two. I had worked with Tatu and Loulis for almost 8 years.

How does my line of work coincide with [ the pub ]? Essentially my job is just like the service industry. Except you all don’t throw whole cucumbers, onions or toys at me. So, you could say I have been in the service industry for a while…

What does a chimpanzee caregiver do? Basically I am a glorified shit shoveler…  That’s mostly a joke. I help enrich the lives of chimps that have been used in some form of their life.  Unfortunately, chimps are still held in biomedical research, circuses or entertainment, and even kept as pets.  So, when chimps end up at a sanctuary, my goal is to help them be comfortable and live a close to natural life by integrating them with other chimps and fostering the social connection they thrive on.  I provide meals, clean, help train volunteers, and provide friendship. At Chimp Sanctuary Northwest (CSNW), I am really just Jamie’s personal perimeter walker.  We walk probably a mile everyday by doing multiple laps around the perimeter of the fenced area.

I have always loved IHB. I especially enjoyed the Pub’s atmosphere where I spent probably too much of my time before I had moved. When I moved back I had a part time job at the CSNW and well, needed a bit more money. I thought why not get the best of both worlds and work at my two favorite places, so I applied to Iron Horse!  

I thought I would share some of my knowledge with all of you.  There’s a few common things that I see a lot of people get wrong or confused with different types of animals (chimps vs monkeys vs orangutans… etc.).

Human vs Nonhuman
Who are great Apes
1. Chimps
2. Gorillas
3. Orangutans
4. Bonobos
5. Humans
      a. Surprisingly a lot of people deny humans! Crazy! So we humans are really not that special. And trust me, they are smarter than us. Next time I serve you a beer just ask and I will share stories.

5 similarities between human and nonhumans as told by the primatologist:

  1. We have fingernails and they have fingernails
  2. We have hair and they have hair
  3. We are DNA 99.8% genes shared
  4. We have big brains and they have big brains – They are smart and can acquire language
  5. We don’t have tails and they also do not have tails

My pet peeves when interacting with humans about nonhuman primates

  1. Yes, chimps are cute.  No, they do not make good pets unless you want to have no nose, don’t like breathing or going out in public…
  2. *Disclaimer* Kids can do this because they are new to the world and are still learning. Chimps and monkeys are not one in the same. I have learned as I aged to stop correcting people. If you want to sound dumb and call a chimp or a gorilla a monkey, go ahead… But I will be laughing and judging you in my head.
    1. Monkeys have tails
    2. Chimps have a larger brain
    3. Greater apes are bigger bodied
  3. No, I do not want to have a fun debate about how the biomedical research is/was beneficial.
  4. Chimps think and feel like humans and it is unethical to inflict pain on them (Would you do it to a child or any other human?).  I don’t like debating, so don’t try!
  5. I don’t go into any kind of enclosures or caging with the chimps.   
    1. That would be stupid.  They are 8 to 10x stronger than a human, including middle aged men who think they’re 8 to 10x stronger after a few Irish Deaths. I am not suicidal!  However, I do safe interactions. The chimps are able to give a kiss on my wrist or use a tool, usually a backscratcher, to groom me or I can use a tool to groom them.

There are a few small things you can do to help support chimps and other great apes:

  1. Don’t buy chimp greeting cards.  The “cute smile face” chimps make on those is actually a fear grimace caused by a reaction to abuse or threat of abuse.
  2. Buy cruelty free and palm oil free products.
  3. Don’t support movies that have chimps in them. Go to CGI movies. They aren’t abused!
  4. Don’t support roadside or inhumane zoos.
  5. Look up animal sanctuaries and engage with their social media.  You’d be surprised at how much you can learn by reading blogs, like the one at CSNW.  As an added bonus, you usually get to see some pretty amazing photos that no one else gets to see:   

Photos courtesy of Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest.

To learn more about the chimps you can follow Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest blog



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