Sunday mornings are one of my favorite times to be a chimpanzee caregiver at CHCI. The morning shift is what we call an “alone shift” which is aptly named since there is only one person in the building caring for the chimpanzees all morning. Although this can be a lot of fun, it’s also a lot of work. Things that we normally have a whole crew of people to take care of have to be done in the same amount of time by just one person! Needless to say, the alone shift caregiver stays pretty busy. However, on this particular Sunday I had a little down time in between all the morning tasks, so I sat down with Tatu and offered her some paper, crayons, and chalk.
Normally when I paint with Tatu, she seems more interested in eating the paint than she does in trying to create a beautiful picture while I sit there watching. (Since we don’t want her to eat a whole lot of paint, I will sit there for the duration of the painting activity. Also all the paint we use is non-toxic for this reason.) On this particular morning, I intended to simply offer her the drawing material and leave her alone while I went on to do other tasks, which is why I brought out crayons and chalk instead of paint. She gladly took the materials and started right away on her drawing. I paused for a minute to see what she would come up with. First she drew some with a crayon, then picked up a piece of chalk and drew a little with that. She then used her finger to smear the chalk, which I thought was pretty neat. She used a couple more colors, and then sat contently looking at her work.
I clapped to get her attention and when she looked at me I asked, YOU FINISH? Tatu didn’t respond so I said, “Tatu, can I have that?” while simultaneously signing GIMME PAPER THERE. She scooted the paper out to me. I signed THANK YOU! WHAT NAME? Tatu brought her pincer fingers up to her lips and was about to sign BIRD – or so I thought. Instead she moved her hands differently to sign LIPSTICK. I said, “That’s a good name.” and took the painting into the kitchen. I gave her some more paper just in case she wanted to draw some more and continued on with the morning routine.