My internship at Project Chimps changed my entire perspective on what I could pursue with a career in anthropology. I am highly interested in biological anthropology and fully intend to obtain my Masters in biological anthropology, but when it came to choosing an internship, I wanted to step outside of my comfort zone and try something new. Fortunately for me, working as a chimpanzee caregiver at Project Chimps was the once in a lifetime internship that I was lucky enough to experience. As an intern, I was assigned to an experienced chimpanzee caregiver, who was my mentor and taught me everything I needed to know in terms of chimp behavior and safety. Each day, I would arrive at the sanctuary at 8 a.m. and the chimps would be waiting in the ‘villa’ (housing area for the chimps) for us to begin our daily routine of feeding them and cleaning their bedroom area and porches, which required extensive scrubbing daily.
Spending time with the chimps in the afternoon after the day’s final rush truly kept me on my toes because their interactions, from an anthropological perspective, are very similar to our human interactions. Meal time, in particular, allowed my interpretive mind to see the complex social interactions at play and understand chimpanzee social hierarchy. I began to see that some chimps never had their food stolen but other chimps, always had their food stolen because they were little.
Apart from beginning to understand the complexity of chimp social relationships and actions, I found myself beginning to see the characters of each chimp come through the more time I spent with them. Within three days of working at the sanctuary, I knew the names and faces of all 11 chimps that were housed in my ‘villa’. A couple of weeks in, I began to fall in love and truly know each chimp on a personal level. Before I knew it, I found myself remembering that this one absolutely loves peaches or that another one would soon steal my heart and always want me to blow bubbles for him (as can be seen in the photo). Ultimately, the internship required hard work, lots of sweat and dedication, but mostly it required love and the desire to make a change. Helping better the lives of these retired medical research chimpanzees was the first and foremost reason I chose the sanctuary as my internship, but the chimps ultimately ended up giving me so much more than I ever could have offered them. I truly do not believe I could have picked a more wonderful facility and group of people to intern with because they gave me more than I had ever expected. It took no time at all for me to realize that anthropology has so many more doors to open than I knew that it could, and I am excited for a lifetime of being able to pursue so many wonderful career paths thanks to anthropology. Who knows… the next time you see me I might just be the next Jane Goodall.