Maybe it’s because I recently reached my first quarter-century age mark, but lately some variant of the question, “What is your life dream?” has been coming up a lot. It didn’t take me long to realize how incredibly lucky I am to be able to say, at only 25 years old, that my life dream has already been completed- and I have Dar, Loulis, and Tatu to thank for it.
I’ve always wanted to work with chimpanzees; a journal written in 5th grade is written proof. I found out about Washoe and her family while in college, and applied to be a summer apprentice in 2008. Being near Tatu, Dar, and Loulis left me feeling humbled and inspired, and, within my first week at CHCI, I knew I would be applying to come back for graduate school.
I realized even while I was at CHCI that my time there was special. The thing about Tatu, Loulis, and Dar is that being around them forces you to drop any self-centered or egotistical thoughts you might have. Because every single thing I did was for them, to better their lives, I quickly forgot that I was there to learn about myself, too. There were definitely moments, especially after a conversation with Dar, a grooming session with Tatu, or a playful game of chase with Loulis that I needed to remind myself how fortunate I was.
On October 27th, 2011, I defended my thesis, Chimpanzee Responses to Visitors Using Chimpanzee-Friendly Behaviors. The moment was incredibly bittersweet; I have worked hard on this project, and was happy to finally stand up in front of my professors and peers and show them my work. However, I also knew that this meant my days would no longer involve games of chase with Dar resulting in somersaults and head stands (his doing, not mine!), Tatu calmly watching me freak out as bees would fly around us during conversations on berm, and kisses from Loulis.
My plan has always been to earn a Ph.D. and get a job at a university
where I could get future generations excited about primates while
continuing to do research myself. However, somewhere between my first
day of Chimp Care training and my final game of chase, I realized I
wanted to keep working to better the lives of all primates, not just
Washoe’s family. They have inspired me to go into animal law, and I am
very excited and nervous for the journey ahead.
I don’t believe you can really say goodbye to someone who will be with
you everyday, in your heart and mind. Loulis, Dar, and Tatu have changed
my life in so many ways and words could never fully express how
thankful I am for all that they have given me. I walk away from CHCI
with lifelong friendships (to human and non-human primates) and a
feeling of possibility- for my future, for their future, and for every
other student who will be as lucky as I.