You may be aware by now that Jamie can be a pretty exacting boss. She knows just what she wants AND when she wants it. For example, as I type she insists that I should, instead, be taking a walk with her while wearing a cowboy boot. Right. Now. Seriously, NOW. Often people will ask about her specific requests (like wearing a boot while walking around Young’s Hill) “But how do you know that’s what she wants?”
The simple answer is she tells us. Chimpanzees rely heavily on the use of non-verbal communication to get their point across. Gestures such as foot stomping, play bowing, pointing, arm reaches, and hugs & kisses (just to name a few) are all part of the daily vocabulary of chimpanzee life. Additionally, facial expressions, body postures, and vocalizations all provide a potential social partner (whether chimpanzee or human) with important information to help understand the context for interactions. Sometimes those cues can be subtle and sometimes not. Often behaviors can be used in multiple settings (play and aggression, for instance) so it’s vital to make sure we’re paying attention to the full picture painted by someone’s body language.
As I mentioned, Jamie is insistent about that walk. How do I know? She’s stomping her foot loudly and repeatedly while gesturing frantically towards the bin that holds her boots. If I pick one out and bring it to her (which I promised to do just as soon as I finish!) she will tell me to put it on by staring at my foot then gesturing to the boot and then my foot again. She usually won’t take off running for Young’s Hill until I have it on my foot. Then she’ll run faster than Forrest Gump for the entrance to Young’s Hill pausing every so often to to look back, make eye contact, and make sure I’m following along. For me, the question is not how I know, but how could I possibly not? The chimpanzees communicate their wants and emotional states as clearly as if they were speaking. In fact, I often wonder if life wouldn’t be less complicated without the use of spoken language confusing the matter at hand!