Special, Inspirational, Engaging My Birthday
October 4, 1999My Story
Knuckles arrived at the Center for Great Apes from a California entertainment compound when he was only two years old. He was believed to have been affected with cerebral palsy due to a lack of oxygen during his birth. His challenges were motor and muscle control, a weakness on the left side, and a lazy eye that didn’t allow him to focus on things.
Most two-year-old chimpanzees swing around actively and climb to tall heights, but Knuckles could not climb and barely walked when he arrived. When he was placed somewhere, he would just sit there until someone moved him. Although he couldn’t easily feed himself, he would eat if someone fed him.
Early MRI tests and EEG scans suggested that he was not likely to advance much and would stay the same or get worse. However, Knuckles has made steady progress and our expectations for him are all good.
After years of help from several dedicated volunteers and staff… as well as therapy from occupational and physical therapists who donated their time to help Knuckles, he has learned to feed himself, climb up and down steps, and pull himself up on special swings to hang upside down and play. He walks wherever he wants to go and occasionally runs when playing games of chase with other chimpanzees. He is very aware and cognizant of activities around him, likes to play and be tickled, and is very affectionate.
From the time of his arrival, he was introduced to Grub’s group through the mesh while still an infant. Grub, Toddy, Kenya, Brooks, and Noelle seemed to know Knuckles was “special” and have always been gentle with him. He eventually began having play sessions one-on-one inside the habitat with each of these chimpanzees, and can now tolerate about an hour of play, grooming, and running before he is exhausted. Every day, Knuckles spends time with Grub’s group standing outside the habitat where they can see him and touch him. Grub and Noelle are especially good with Knuckles and spend sitting next to him frequently grooming him. When the little female chimpanzee Kodua arrived from Hollywood at age two, she was introduced to the then 5-year-old Knuckles, and she also became one of his frequent playmates.
Our goal has always been to get Knuckles to the point where he can have the companionship of other chimpanzees. Now an adolescent (and is more than 120 pounds), his therapy from staff is limited. But with the recent construction of a special indoor/outdoor enclosure suited to the needs of handicapped and geriatric apes, Knuckles has the opportunity to live in his own habitat where the other chimpanzees can spend all day next to him, or short periods inside the enclosure playing with him... or even overnight visits in Knuckles’ nighthouse.
Taking on the challenge of raising a severely handicapped chimpanzee had to be carefully considered when we were approached to take Knuckles at the sanctuary. But, he has continued to exceed most expectations of his potential and abilities and has enriched the lives of not only the chimpanzees he interacts with, but also the staff, volunteers, and visitors who have been inspired by him.