The surprising truth I learned from a chimpanzee

A documentary project in the 1980s took me right inside the chimpanzee enclosure at London Zoo.

What an extraordinary experience.

Instead of being on the outside looking in, we were inside with a dozen or so of these delightful creatures, who of course are truly not that different from us.


After we’d taken photographs, their keeper suggested I might like to crouch down with arms open and sure enough one little guy jumped up and hugged me (lightly, fortunately).

It was a profound moment as I stood up with the affectionate chimp pressing himself firmly against my chest.

He was lighter than I would have expected.

Although I’m not especially an animal lover, I have to confess this was a moment I’ll never forget.

I know I was hugely privileged to have experienced it.

After this spot of human-primate bonding it was time for me to leave, so I lowered the little guy to the ground.

Then came the most poignant moment of all.

As the keeper and I prepared to head off, the little chimp was joined by one of his pals, and they padded off with their arms round each other.

I wanted to know what this might mean, and their keeper explained that they were sad that we were leaving, so were comforting one another to kind of say ‘it’s OK, I’m here – I care’.

Feeling that someone cares for you and about you can be a crucial factor in determining your overall state of mind.

Unfortunately it’s not uncommon if you’re going through a rough patch to mistakenly believe that nobody does: it’s a cruel trick your mind can play on you.

Perhaps we can learn from the chimpanzees, however.

One good way to feel others care for you is to care for them first.

Put your arm around them, and they’ll almost certainly reciprocate.

Tell them you love them and they (hopefully) will tell you that they love you too.

Maybe it’s a good day to show those around you how much you care for them?

You may get a pleasant surprise in return.

One thought on “The surprising truth I learned from a chimpanzee

  1. Coming to this late, but better late than never. This is really a great reminder, that physical contact is so good for us all. I try to remember that with my cat too as I feel that even if she doesn’t stick around all night when she does sit with us a good head rub makes her feel loved and valued and knowing that I have given her pleasure helps me too. Your tale was very touching thank you Jon.

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