Sanctuary Project

Kumamoto Sanctuary Report
This report is a part of our news letter for the members.

Helping Blind Kanako Live Among Chimpanzees.

Roman (left) with Kanako

This is a sequel to the story of Kanako, a blind chimpanzee with Down Syndrome, introduced in Issue 58.

When Kanako was 18 years old, the only person she could be together with was me. I tried to come up with ways for her to spend time with other chimpanzees, but it was difficult. These chimpanzees, in the adjacent enclosure, were outwardly hostile to her. They would thrust sticks, spit water, shake the fence, bark, and in general alienate her. Admittedly, chimpanzees can be hostile towards newcomers to their group, but this was different. “She is strange”, they seemed to say, and were determined to exclude her from the group.

However, it was different with Roman (a lady in her 30s). She watched and nodded as I played with Kanako, her eyes gentle and kind. Roman has a calm temperament and does not excite easily, making her an excellent mediator when there are conflicts in her group. Like all chimpanzees, she could be terrifying when angered, but most of the time she is steady and reliable. Fortunately I had a good rapport with her as well, and I could be in the same room with her. This was an important consideration for the selection of Kanako’s companion, because I could be able to protect the blind chimpanzee if anyone showed aggression towards her. With this condition satisfied, I began to introduce the two chimpanzees.

When calm, chimpanzees can be very quiet, and Roman did not make a sound at all during their first introduction. Somehow, though, Kanako knew that Roman was behind the mesh - whether it was by scent, or by feeling. They were introduced through the mesh about three times, and since they were calm each time, we decided that they could be put together.

At the first meeting, Kanako, with hairs raised, rushed towards Roman. Roman gently and repeatedly patted her back, and Kanako quickly calmed down. Roman rocked her body to invite Kanako to play, but of course Kanako did not understand. Roman then tries to groom Kanako, but before she could touch her, Kanako had moved away. Roman then sat down and quietly contemplated. The meeting lasted an hour, so as not to stress Kanako too much.

The meetings were repeated several times for her to get used to it. When Kanako would hear me playing and laughing with Roman, she would get down from the bed and come closer, as if to check out what was happening. When Roman saw me grooming Kanako, she would come over to join us, the three of us sitting in a row on the same log. I usually encouraged them to come closer together when they were sitting far apart.

However, the meetings did not always go smoothly. During the second meeting, there was a commotion among the other chimpanzees, causing tensions to rise with Roman and Kanako as well. Their hairs raised, they slowly approached each other - this was a dangerous situation which could go badly at any time. I had to step in to mediate, first soothing Kanako, then soothing Roman... Luckily, they calmed down and we were able to avoid further problems.

Kanako seemed to look forward to spending time with Roman during this period. When she sensed that Roman was about to come, her spirits lifted. Roman would also enter the room in high spirits, waiting for Kanako to join her. Roman would try to invite Kanako to play, her hand held up, but she was always polite and stood back to watch Kanako carefully. Although there was not much physical contact between the two, they often liked to relax together on the same log. Gradually, the distance between them decreased and I could relax next to them, instead of having to keep watch as the mediator.

Sadly, this lovely period did not last long. Roman passed away suddenly just before Kanako’s 26th birthday. They had been playing happily together one day, and the next morning she had collapsed and died from a hemorrhage.

While grieving the death of Roman, I still had to think about Kanako’s future. I had to find another roommate for her, but there was no longer anyone like Roman, with her calm and gentle temperament. After considering some candidates, I settled upon Yoshie (29 years old at the time). Yoshie is quite peculiar and mysterious and completely different from Roman. But miracles have been known to happen - sometimes they behaved in ways that surprised us. The two of them did not seem wholly incompatible, so we decided to introduce them and see what happened.

So far Kanako has only ever met with Roman, and she was not used to anyone else. We introduced them about 20 times through the mesh before putting them together in the same room. During that first meeting, Yoshie quickly bounded in, excited. Kanako was still in bed, and Yoshie immediately approached her face. Astonished, Kanako got up. Yoshie boldly put her arms around Kanako, pulling her close and touching her hands and legs. Even though this was all done gently, it was sudden and unexpected and Kanako continued to look a little shocked. Eventually though, sensing no threat from Yoshie, Kanako gradually started to relax. Yoshie continued to invite Kanako to play, butting heads with her with a play face.

After a few meetings, we could see Kanako becoming more assertive and confident. The “adult” Roman showed consideration and concern towards Kanako, and refrained from physical contact with her. Yoshie, on the other hand, innocent and oblivious to Kanako’s discomfort, had no such constraints and could provide her with physical contact as a partner. Moreover, Roman was good at solving conflicts and highly invaluable to her group, so we could not call on her frequently to be with Kanako. Yoshie spends less time with her group and seems to enjoy Kanako’s company, frequently coming to Kanako’s room of her own accord. Somehow the two of them have the same wavelength, and now spend almost every day together.

Kanako and Yoshie (right)

Kanako turned 27 on 2 June 2019. Her heath has been declining since the end of June. She has heart complications due to Down Syndrome, but lately it seems to be getting worse. Her appetite has decreased and she spends more time resting. We are continuing to monitor her health while she spends time with Yoshie.
                                                                                                     reported by Etsuko Nogami



©Sanctuary Project 2006