Chimpanzees mainly groom themselves and one another directly with their hands and mouths, but a couple of the chimps at CSNW use tools for grooming. Missy likes to groom herself with a splinter of wood. Sometimes she just scratches herself, but other times she can be like a surgeon with her instrument as she picks at a bump or scab. In fact, volunteer Deb once saw Missy use a wood splinter to open up a small abscess that had gone unnoticed by the staff. As a former nurse, she said the process was not all that unlike how a doctor would perform what they call an I&D (incision and drainage – sorry to gross you out), though hopefully your doctor would use a sterile instrument and not a stick.
Jamie, on the other hand, uses tools to groom her caregivers. I think this is mainly because of what she wants to groom. As you may know, the caregivers at CSNW only present certain parts of their bodies to the chimps for contact (e.g., a bare elbow) and only in limited circumstances. This is because there is always the potential for a chimpanzee – even someone that we are good friends with – to grab us and injure us. So if Jamie wants to touch our fingers or the tops of our shoes, she has to use a tool. Jamie knows this and seems to enjoy grooming with a tool even more than using her fingers. Sometimes she even tries to reach into our pockets or lift up our shirts to see our bellies.
We often describe Jamie as “intense,” and if you look at her eyes while she is grooming or using a tool, you can see the focus and concentration that she has. You can also see her display sympathetic mouth movements as she grooms, which Diana described in the comments section on a previous blog post.