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Hockey’s Special Needs

by Allison Leach

“Special” is indeed the word that first comes to mind when thinking of the orangutan Hockey.  She came to the OFI Care Center as an orphan, like many other orangutans.  But unfortunately, her sensitive nature, in both spirit and body, left her vulnerable to a crippling stroke suffered before her arrival.  This stroke left her paralyzed on her right side, somewhat mentally challenged and prone to seizures ever after.

I heard of Hockey soon after I arrived at the Care Center as a long-term Enrichment Volunteer in 2014.  She immediately piqued my interest, as I had previously been a volunteer dedicated to a paralyzed chimpanzee in the African nation of Cameroon.  But Hockey blew away all my assumptions.  Expecting to confront an unhappy victim of cruel circumstance, I instead found a serene, loving and intensely affectionate being. Hockey greets the world and everyone in it with equanimity; accepts what is given to her; and lives fully in the moment.

Similarly, my chimpanzee charge in Cameroon had suffered meningitis as an infant, and was left in a coma.  He eventually regained his sight and hearing, but was left partially immobilized from the neck down.  He required 24-hour attention and unfortunately struggled with his condition.  Unlike Hockey, his mind had not been affected, and he seemed to be frustrated with the limits of his condition. When I met him, he was entering adolescence, which further compounded his unhappiness.  Blessedly, Hockey is not afflicted with this knowledge.  She lives each day in blissful ignorance of her limitations.

However, it must be acknowledged that disabled residents like Hockey and my chimpanzee friend in Cameroon are a challenge for all sanctuaries.  Each requires additional attention and care which means means more staff time, more medical intervention, and more money.  And these challenges can lead to difficult decisions that each residential care center must make for themselves.

At the OFI Care Center, Hockey has, and always will be, well cared for by a devoted and tireless staff.  Whilst I was there, I tried to dedicate time everyday to add special enrichment designed for her needs.  Mostly, this involved spending time with her, either in her sleeping cage or out in the forest.  And what one learns very soon about Hockey, is that she welcomes the attention and company. In any person’s presence, she blossoms with attention.

Through the years, Hockey has touched and changed many people’s lives worldwide.  Hockey has a fan base that would challenge a few celebrity’s Twitter followers in number and devotion.

Chief amongst them is Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas, and it is through Dr. Galdikas’ love and compassion that Hockey continues to live out her days as comfortably and happy as possible.  As Hockey ages and becomes less mobile, a full-time, dedicated nurse has been hired for her care. There is now a mandatory volunteer protocol for Hockey’s enrichment: all in the service to improve her quality of life.

Hockey’s unique disposition to her reduced circumstances has quite a lot to teach us all about how to live, value, and accept life.  And as this very special orangutan guru always reminds me: be present and live in the moment.  Therein, happiness lies.  Bless her! We could all learn from her.

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  • Barbara Pilert
    2018-11-30 at 3:48 PM

    Allison, was your chimp Samburu?

  • Julie Sims
    2018-11-30 at 6:05 PM

    Lovely, well written story. I sponsor Hockey and am glad to do so as I also think she is a very special Orangutan.

  • Rebecca Reeder
    2018-12-01 at 2:50 PM

    Thank you for this wonderful article about a truly sweet “girl” – Hockey. I think you have captured her spirit welI. I remember meeting Hockey over a decade ago and over the years have smiled and cried at her moments of seeming progress as well as those of relapse. Thank you to everyone who cares for her regularly at the Care Center as well as to the Australian branch of OFI for their special fund raising events. Remember, at any gift exchange events, you can always ask that someone make a donation in your name and give them the website:

  • Allison Leach
    2018-12-04 at 9:31 PM

    Barbara, no it was not. Is Samburu another special needs chimp?

  • Kathleen Corby
    2019-01-19 at 8:42 PM

    Hi Allison, thank you for this touching post and for introducing all of us to the invincible spirit of Hockey. This article has opened my eyes, not just to Hockey and her special needs but to the devotion and dedication of OFI caregivers who see to it that each orangutan in their care is seen as an individual and is loved and appreciated as such. I am curious and would like to know how old Hockey is today. I wish her a long happy life and I am grateful to everyone at OFI who has cared for her and brought her joy.

  • Barbara Pilert
    2019-02-15 at 7:25 PM

    Samburu is a chimp at Méfou primate Sanctuary In Cameroon. He had meningitis, as a baby. It left him partially paralyzed. He is about 12 or 13 years old, and lives with the nursery group of orphaned chimps, because his own cohort started to pick on him and bully him. I was there as a volunteer in 2017. I visited Camp Leakey and the OCCQ in 2007 on an OFI study tour.

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