Having recently finished my master’s thesis, I thought this would be an appropriate venue for talking about my thesis topic: the use of chimpanzee behaviors and vocalizations by caregivers. At CSNW, the caregivers incorporate chimpanzee behaviors when interacting with the chimps. For example, during play, we exhibit chimpanzee playfaces, laughter and other playful behaviors. In addition, we use submissive behaviors when the chimpanzees display aggressive behaviors. Chimpanzees are excellent readers of nonverbal behavior. Some natural human behaviors, such as walking upright, swinging our arms, and smiling, are all aggressive/territorial behaviors to chimpanzees. Therefore, although they understand human behavior, to prevent a possible miscommunication, we use behaviors to let the chimpanzees know we are their friends, rather than trying to dominate them. Playing this submissive role has produced relationships that are centered around cooperation and friendship. In my thesis research, when caregivers used chimpanzee behaviors, the chimps spent more time interacting with the caregivers and used more playful and friendly behaviors. I see the effects of this everyday, and feel this simple thing has greatly improved these chimpanzees’ psychological wellbeing. So, next time you see a chimpanzee, whether it be at a zoo or a sanctuary, try giving them a chimpanzee head nod or a playface (you’ll see these behaviors in the video). They will be elated to know someone out there speaks chimpanzee! And being submissive when the chimpanzees are displaying (as seen in THIS video), lets them know that we aren’t threatening them and that we are their friends. It can make a world of difference.
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