Eleven-year-old Genesis is a special chimpanzee. She was born at the New Iberia Research Center on April 4th, 2005 and lived there until retiring to Project Chimps in September 2016. Since her arrival at the sanctuary, caregivers have grown to know and love Genesis and her quirks. “Genesis is the loner of the group. She enjoys time to herself and finds comfort in her solitude,” caregiver Brooke says. Genesis will engage in grooming sessions with the other chimps, but caregivers don’t witness that very often. Genesis can usually be found sitting by herself, content in her silence and solitude. Up until Monday, February 6th, the caregivers had never really seen Genesis play.
However, while caregiver Janie was working with the females on Monday, March 6th, Genesis knocked on the mesh to get Janie’s attention. “I went over to greet her, and she met me with a play face! She started tickling the back of my wrists over and over. I kept laughing and couldn’t believe what was happening. She even presented her back to me, and I gave it lots of knuckle rubs all over. I just couldn’t believe it was happening,” Janie explains. Seeing how much fun Janie and Genesis were having, the other chimps began playing with Genesis and each other as well.
Brooke has a theory as to why Genesis was more willing to play that day: “I think her great attitude the past few days has a lot to do with the phase she is in with her swelling cycle. She seems to be more interested in her caregivers and other chimps when she is swollen”. Female chimpanzees have enlarged areas, or swellings, of the pink perineal skin that vary in size over the course of their menstrual cycle. When a female begins to ovulate, her swelling will grow; a signal to male chimpanzees that she is ready to mate. Caregivers have found that when female chimpanzees have a full swelling, they’re more outgoing and eager to play.
Seeing Genesis playing wasn’t only a breakthrough for her individually, but for the whole Project. “When a chimpanzee feels comfortable with their surroundings, and all of their needs have been met, they feel relaxed enough to let loose and play. They can let their guard down and have fun with their family members. It’s a sign of comfort and happiness,” Janie explains. Since beginning to work at Project Chimps five months ago, Janie has seen a remarkable evolution in Genesis. “It was her choice to play in that moment, and I’m so privileged to spend that time with her. It means she trusts me more and she understands I have her wellbeing in mind. This new blossom of happiness from her is a great sign,” Janie explains.
Check out this video to see Genesis playing and to hear her breathy pant, which is the chimpanzee equivalent to human laughter: