I recently recorded some footage of Jamie and Negra throwing toys and blankets at each other during a fight, so I thought I’d put together a short video of the different ways the chimps here at the sanctuary throw objects.
Free-living chimpanzees throw objects too. They might throw a large rock or branch into the water, for example, to make a splash as part of their display. Depending on the community, they also throw objects at predator and prey animals, as well as other chimpanzees, like Jamie does in this video.
In captivity, we see a lot of throwing during aggressive or agonistic behavior, for one obvious reason: Captive chimps can’t always physically get to the ones they are directing their aggression towards. This is why we see rock-, dirt-, and feces-throwing directed toward humans outside of the enclosure, and occasionally toward chimpanzees in other enclosures. Spitting works too, but believe me, it does not have the same impact on the recipient as rocks and feces. It’s unfortunate that feces-throwing has become a standard punch line about captive chimps because it’s actually a very intelligent behavior. Disgusting, yes, but also very intelligent. If you are a chimpanzee in captivity, this is the most powerful weapon at your disposal. And Jamie knows that very well.
I am always amazed to hear stories about, and on rare occasions see in person, chimpanzees using objects to test out something dangerous, like Jody does in this video. In this case, it was something truly harmless (a plastic chimpanzee doll) but the chimps also do this sort of thing with real, live snakes. They might throw an object to provoke the thing they are scared of and see how it reacts from a safe distance, or they might do it to see how the object fares during the encounter. In Next of Kin, Roger Fouts recounts the story of a time when Washoe was wary of a new doormat. Instead of stepping on it herself, she threw her doll onto it from a distance and later carefully inspected her doll for damage.