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If I could talk to the animals? Dudley Zoo's Jodie can with chimp sign language

“If I could talk to the animals, just imagine it. Chattin’ with a chimp in chimpanzee.”

Jodie Dryden in the See Hear programme on BBC Two
Jodie Dryden in the See Hear programme on BBC Two

That’s how the famous song goes and one zookeeper at Dudley Zoo is proving a real-life Doctor Dolittle . . . well maybe not talking in chimpanzee, but sign language.

And now senior keeper Jodie Dryden and her chimps have become stars of the small screen as part of a programme for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.

Jodie featured alongside the animals in the BBC Two programme See Hear showing how she and her team communicate with the tourist attraction’s seven female chimps – Mandy, Fanny, Barbie, Malaika, Binti, Mali and Banika – using hand signals.

The keepers, who use the signs to perform health checks and give any necessary treatment, can get the chimps to show their chest to use a stethoscope or their ears to take their temperatures with an ear thermometer.

The poster featuring Jodie shows the chimps’ sign language

Jodie said: “The chimp sign language proved invaluable when one chimp called Mandy was injured one time and we were able to communicate with her and give her an injection without any stress being involved.

“It is wonderful that our story has featured on a programme aimed at people who understand the power of sign language and we hope they found our chimps interesting.”

See Hear programme researcher Melissa Wessel contacted the zoo to arrange the filming and said the chimps’ story would appeal to their viewers as the majority use sign language themselves.

Melissa said: “It was brought to my attention that Dudley Zoo is using chimp sign language and we thought it would be something different and fun to feature in our monthly Deaf News round-up.

“The majority of our audience is deaf and/or a British Sign Language user, so there is kind of a connection there.”

The simple chimp signs, shown in a poster designed by DZG’s graphic resigner Rachel Lane, were passed on from London Zoo where the girls came from 20 years ago.

See Hear is a monthly programme for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community delivered in British Sign Language with subtitles and voice-over.

  • The programme is available for people to see on the BBC iPlayer

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