SMSHelpsAnimalsOriginally Published The Nugget News November 24, 2015
Author Erin Borla

Sisters Middle School students had the opportunity to hone their engineering skills in a unique way this past month. Every fall for the past five years Carol Packard’s sixth-grade science class has a chance to build an enrichment project for the animals of Chimps, Inc. to interact with.

“The biggest challenge for the student groups is to come up with something that can entertain an animal with the mind of a 4-year-old and the strength that is eight times stronger than a grown man,” says Packard. “The students first must engineer and design the project and then construct the final product.”

Every fall Chimps, Inc., a Tumalo-based nonprofit sanctuary for seven chimpanzees, a Siberian lynx, and a Canadian lynx joins Packard’s classroom at SistersMiddle School. Staff and volunteers discuss how their facility provides lifetime care to captive chimpanzees rescued or retired from the pet and entertainment industries.

Students learn about the chimps’ likes and dislikes as well as types of enrichment projects the nonprofit can and cannot accept.

“It is a challenge to keep the chimps occupied throughout the day,” says Chimps, Inc. Executive Director Marla O’Donnell. “The enrichment projects the students make are so helpful.”

This year students have been extremely creative in their projects. Many have used different herbs and nuts to encourage the animals to play with and explore each item. Others have used different sensory items – focusing on things that make a variety of noises or have different textures. All have one thing in common: they work like a puzzle, encouraging the animals to try many different ways to get each to open, close, move or allow access to a treat inside.

Students Madison Symonds and Sydney Wilkins created a massive “Treat Roller” for the two lynx as their enrichment project. Made from a wire spool and other found items the students have drilled large holes and stuffed plush animals and treats inside. The lynx are challenged to remove the plush toys to access the treat. In it’s description, the students have said “(the Treat Roller) rolls and can be pushed up on its side to be laid on.”

When the projects are delivered, Chimps, Inc. volunteers place one enrichment project at a time with the animals and video the interaction. Videos are posted to so students can follow up on what they created and see how the animals enjoyed and explored each project.

In addition to making items for the seven chimps on site, students have also made activities for the two lynx housed at the sanctuary.

Sixth-grader Teegan Hess made a large cat-scratcher out of wood and carpet. Her project came complete with different herbs for the lynx to enjoy. She packaged extra catnip for volunteers to use at the sanctuary if the smell started to fade.

“I loved making this project for Linky and Alfonz,” says Hess. “My cat at home opened the extra bag of catnip for my project!”

Every trimester Packard has different optional take-home projects available for students. This is by far one of the classroom favorites.

“I could never pick a favorite student project that someone did for Chimps, Inc.,” Packard says. “The students and even the parents really get into this and are very creative in developing unique ideas.”

The public can view videos of the chimps playing with enrichment activities on the Chimps, Inc. YouTube channel. Other enrichment toys and donations are always accepted at the sanctuary. A complete list of acceptable donations is available at