The chimps had a big fight on Tuesday night during dinner. I haven’t witnessed a fight of that intensity that lasted that long in years. The Cle Elum Seven do have minor conflicts all of the time. If you’re not familiar with chimps, you might think these squabbles are all-out brawls, but after you’ve seen a few, you get accustomed to how chimps fight. Once a quarrel breaks out, generally everyone joins in, so at CSNW, there are seven chimpanzees screaming and running around. Usually it is just a lot of posturing and often very little physical contact (as I mentioned in this blog post). Tuesday was a bit different.
The fight seemed to start between Missy and Annie. Though they really are best friends, Missy is dominant to Annie. Dominance is often asserted around access to food, so sometimes Missy reminds Annie of her lower rank by getting upset if Annie tries to take food. Because of these occasional reminders, Annie can be a little nervous. Annie used to be quite on edge a lot of the time, and if she thought someone was going to become upset by something she was doing, she would have overly exaggerated submissive behaviors, which often included screaming (I found a good description of submissive behaviors on Jane Goodall’s Lessons of Hope website). These days, Annie is much more confident and much less anxious, but a hierarchy among the chimps remains and is frequently reinforced in obvious and subtle ways. So, I can’t say exactly what started the fight, but it was something between Annie and Missy involving food. The start of the fight, however, often doesn’t matter. Once a fight gets going, it’s an opportunity to reinforce rank as well as get out any pent-up anger, so the “target” changes throughout the duration of the conflict. Maybe this sounds familiar? If you’re in a fight with a loved one (or not-so-loved one), I bet you’ve noticed the subject of the fight drifts from the initial topic to anything that been bugging you lately. And if it’s a fight within a group of several people, the person that everyone is focused on can change throughout the quarrel. Chimps aren’t so different.
The fight on Tuesday moved from the greenhouse, to the front rooms, and then into the playroom. There’s really nothing we as caregivers can do to end a conflict among the chimps. Once they’re going, there’s nothing that will take their focus off of the fight. Watching a fight does reinforce why we have such strict safety protocols and why we never share the same space as the chimps without a secure barrier (steel fencing, electric wire or chimp-proof glass) between human and chimpanzee. Chimps can go from peacefully eating dinner to a giant conflict in a matter of seconds.
One thing that we do is make sure there are no areas that would create a “trap” that a chimp could get stuck in without an avenue of escape. So, with that in mind, Elizabeth opened up the doors between each of the front rooms to the playroom even though we had not completed the spot cleaning for the evening. We do not attempt to isolate chimps during or after a conflict – we just give them room and allow them to work things out. Fighting and making up is an important part of living cohesively in a group of chimpanzees.
So, all we could do was watch and wait for the fight to end. Most squabbles last just a minute or two, but this fight went on for at least 15 minutes. One of Negra’s seemingly self-appointed jobs is to let out a loud pant hoot towards the end of the fight. We’ve come to describe this as Negra attempting to end the conflict. With this conflict, Negra let out her “ending pant hoot” at least four times. She seemed ready for the fight to be over and to get on with the rest of dinner; but this fight was intense, and the other chimps just kept going. During the fight, I remarked to Elizabeth how much smarter Burrito has become about conflicts. He used to throw himself in the middle, get all of the girls mad at him, and end up getting beat up. He’s still involved in conflicts, but stays more on the periphery and concentrates on getting reassurance from Foxie, who seems to give reassurance to anyone and everyone who wants it – that’s why we think of her as the mediator of the group. Even though we’re accustomed to the chimps fighting, it’s not a time that we think to break out the cameras, so we don’t have many photos or videos of fights, except for these photos of the end of a squabble that I took a few years ago.
Once the fight finally ended, we looked everyone over for injuries. Jamie’s behind was bleeding, but it didn’t look too worrisome. Jody was the worst off – she had a cut above one of her eyes, a few cuts on her arms, and a very bloody toe. We realized a little while later that one of her toes was severed completely. This probably sounds horrific, but it’s all part of what happens when chimps fight. We’re actually lucky that we don’t see more injuries. During conflicts like this, chimps go for ears, toes, fingers, scrotum – basically parts that stick out that can be bitten.
Jody was taking some time to rest while the other chimps were inspecting their own and each others’ wounds. You might imagine that having a toe bitten off would cause excruciating pain, but chimpanzees’ experience of pain seems to be quite different than that of most modern-day humans. The best example of this among the Cle Elum Seven was a fight pretty early on when Missy’s top lip was split open to the degree that you could see her teeth in between the new two halves of her top lip. Within minutes after the injury, she was pulling on it and biting the rough edges off, and not long afterwards, she eagerly ate several pieces of grapefruit with no signs of pain whatsoever. With no intervention from us, aside from medication (luckily we had seen this type of injury before and knew it could heal on its own), her lip “zipped” back up in a matter of a week or two, and within a month there was barely a trace of the injury.
We have Jody on pain reliever, just in case, as well as antibiotics, and we’re monitoring her toe very closely. We’re sending photos to our veterinarians and keeping them updated several times a day. We’re hoping that Jody’s foot will be able to heal on it’s own. If there are signs of an infection despite the antibiotics, it could be due to bone fragments left in the toe, and we’d most likely have to perform surgery to amputate the rest of the toe – a fairly minor procedure, but it would be the first surgery in CSNW’s history. Let’s hope we won’t have to go that route!
Here’s a photo of Jody from yesterday, the morning after the fight. She wasn’t even favoring her injured foot as she walked all over Young’s Hill: