Seeing Jody kick back always makes me sleepy.
Archives for March 2014
Breakfast this morning at the sanctuary was a leisurely affair in a warm and cozy greenhouse. The chimpanzees enjoyed apples, pears and the fruit smoothie in addition to their chow. The menu appeared to be quite popular with everyone today and there was quite a bit of food peering going on. Food peering is a common occurrence in chimpanzee communities and is observed in both captive and free-living situations. Essentially, it is a nonverbal way of asking, “Are you going to eat all of that?” As a method of communication, it can be more or less effective given the audience and the mood. Today, although there were quite a few instances of it, there were not very many instances of actual food sharing, so, I would say as a strategy it was, on the whole, largely ineffective.
Just earlier this week I posted a video I caught of Foxie using exaggerated signals to get Negra to play with her. Today, it was Missy initiating the play with Foxie! And of course, Foxie couldn’t resist.
People are often surprised to learn that Negra is kind of a powerhouse of personality. Yes, she’s the grandma of the group, and yes, she has an endearingly sweet face, but Negra is a force to be reckoned with. She knows what she wants, and she sees no reason why she should have to wait. Negra is not the leader of the Cle Elum Seven (Jamie would be horrified to hear me even suggest such a thing), but she has her own kind of power. Perhaps because she’s the oldest, or maybe just because of her supreme confidence, Negra is universally respected. There’s a good reason we call her the Queen!
When Negra wants to be groomed, she will walk up to one of the other chimpanzees and plant herself down unceremoniously in front of them. The message is always received; I can’t think of a single time this strategy hasn’t worked for her. If Negra wants to be groomed, Negra will be groomed. Even boss Jamie can’t say no.
Sometimes, Annie will sit out on Young’s Hill to just take in the view and feel the sun on her back, even if no one is sitting there with her. We used to say that Annie wouldn’t do much without Missy by her side, but that’s not how we describe Annie anymore. She is fine being on her own.
It’s only for a short while though, because of course her friend Missy will run out to play chase at full speed.
Because humans use verbal language to communicate, we often don’t notice all the subtle nonverbal cues we give off during interactions with others. Working directly with another species definitely makes you notice those cues, both in nonhuman animals and in humans. Sometimes if someone misinterprets what you are saying or doing, you have to almost exaggerate the opposite cues to make sure they don’t keep thinking you were purposely being mean.
An easy example is when dogs are playing, and if one dog starts to think things are becoming more aggressive, they may snarl and bark and seem somewhat threatening. If the other play partner wants to make sure things don’t get out of control, they will play bow really low to the ground, wag their tail with enthusiasm, and make sure their teeth are not bared. The opposite cues are standing tall, hair up, and teeth bared, and that is how they show aggression. The same can be said for chimps, as well. They have opposite cues for opposite circumstances. When trying to be aggressive, they stand up, swagger, pant hoot, and show all their top teeth to demonstrate how intimidating they are. Opposite behaviors are bowing down, showing a play face (hiding their top teeth), bobbing their head, laughing, and so on to show they are being playful.
Sometimes play can get kind of exciting, and there is a fine line between play and threat. The other day I was playing with Foxie and we were stomping and she was hitting the ceiling. Though she was definitely playing with me, Negra couldn’t see Foxie’s play face and misinterpreted her actions as a threat. Negra started to swagger and pant hoot and her hair was standing up a bit. Foxie quickly wanted to let Negra know she was not at all being aggressive and so she was extremely exaggerated in her play behaviors. She approached Negra with a low posture and really big play face, laugh, and playfully slapped the ground. Negra understood what was going on and began to chase Foxie across the loft and the catwalk of the playroom (at Neggie speed, of course) and I was able to catch the tail end of this play session. You can see how Foxie is continuing to use everything in her arsenal to make sure Negra knows she means to be playful.