Last week, a squabble broke out during dinner. Since we’re always talking about how we never capture conflicts on video, I decided to sit quietly and record the whole thing on my phone.
I’m always amazed at how much is going on during a fight. Alliances are being forged, tested, and sometimes broken. Old grudges are being dug up and rehashed. Some subordinate chimps are engaged in proxy fights on behalf their superiors, others are playing mediator and trying not to harm the alliances they’ve worked so hard to build, and some, like Burrito, are doing all they can just to stay out of the way. And that’s just the fight – as soon as it’s over, it’s on to reconciliation phase.
It’s easy to miss all of these things amidst all the screaming, so what follows is my attempt at a play-by-play.
Dalyce Kowalski says
Wow! Well done explaining all that. Very interesting – thank you for posting.
I am so glad you captured this! At one point it almost sounded like barking to me.
Julie – You’re exactly right. In fact, these are called “threat barks” and they are quite intimidating when you are on the receiving end. Threat barks serve to both threaten the recipient and to rally others for a potential fight. At the sanctuary, the chimps will occasionally threat bark at a staff member or volunteer when we break the chimps rules, which could be anything from picking up food or an object that was too close to the caging to closing one of the chimps’ doors when they weren’t ready for us to do so. You know when you hear a threat bark that you should expect a few more chimps to show up and possibly prepare to be spit on (or worse).
My, Negra was quite upset there for a while. And Jamie the drama diva continues to scream.
Wow! Do squabbles happen often?
Jackie – Yes, squabbles happen pretty regularly. It’s partly the result of how chimps naturally operate, but things like lack of social experience, unnatural group composition, life in captivity, and individual personalities (read: Jamie) can make squabbles more frequent. New volunteers at the sanctuary are often surprised that the chimps are all still alive after a squabble, but they quickly come to realize that there is a lot of screaming but very little contact. Only rarely do we see injuries as a result.
This was completely fascinating. Thanks for the narration. I was surprised that Negra was front and center in the beginning of the conflict; I always think of her as being more passive (napping and night bags). I have a new appreciation for Jody’s boldness. She looked pretty confident displaying on the platform. As for Burrito, that good fellow was literally trying to stay out of trouble. I bet he has learned that lesson the hard way. 🙂 They certainly make up more quickly than some primates I know.
My thoughts exactly, Cheryl!!
tiki kim says
Very interesting. Does Burrito stay out of it because the others are all girls and does that make a difference? Annie was no where in the mix? … I didn’t think it was loud at all, compared to when I’ve heard my Zoo Friend Chimps vocalize! But my kitten reacted to it! … Thankx for the play by play. Do you record these types of notations when you witness squabbles?
Tiki Kim – Burrito tends to stay out of it because he learned his lesson the hard way early on. When the chimps first arrived at the sanctuary, Burrito would leap into the fray every time, but the girls would quickly forget what they were fighting about and agree that they all wanted to beat up Burrito. Burrito is fast and strong, but he is no match for six girls working together. Annie stayed out of this fight, but she is not shy anymore when it comes to conflict if she feels strongly about something. In fact, she will lead the charge against Jamie if Jamie tries to take her food.
Donna Tichenor says
Wow. That was really interesting. Kinda reminds me of my fights with my husband. They pretty much end the same, with a kiss, but we dispense with the mutual grooming.
Nancy Lewis says
Thank you for filming and explaining who was doing what. Hard to tell just by looking at chimps yelling and bouncing around. Negra is always so laid back I was a bit surprised to see her in the middle of it. You didn’t really mention Annie (unless I forgot), what was she doing? I have to laugh at Burrito though… getting as far away as possible, but in a good position to watch it all.
Nancy & Cheryl – Negra doesn’t seem to care too much for other people’s problems. Unlike Missy, who will dive into a fight without knowing the cause just to back up Jamie, Negra will only get involved if she was personally wronged somehow. But if she is wronged, she is a force to be reckoned with. Negra is not fast or particularly strong, but she has a lot of authority and she is certain to have backup from the other chimps.
Yes, it seems Annie stays as far away as possible. (love Annie) and Burrito hangs back for the most part. I was surprised Negra was that involved. My heart still sinks, just watching this. I don’t like conflict with any animals. I have a alpha female dog with a mind of her own and it is not all fun and games.
Rita Stevenson says
This was quite educational, thank yu,
and most interesting,,
Good for Negra,
she don’t take no guff, from anybody,
It s fully understandable, she just want peace in her life,~
after all her suffering and losses and abuses in her life,
she DESERVES every moment of peace she desires,
Some how the other get it,
Rita Stevenson says
Q/ to JB is that Negra in still 118 -123 who is lashing out adn climbed up the fence to hit Jamie,
Rita – Negra does lash out at Jamie, but she stays on the ground. Jody is the one who climbs the fence to exchange blows with Jamie. You can spot Jody throughout the video because she is wearing a green striped sock 🙂
Rita Stevenson says
or was it JODY., I think JAMIE has some VERY stiff competition form JODY for lead position
however I think JODY would be a far more fearless and CONFIDENT LEADER who would rule far more DIPLOMATICALLY and JODY would be to better pick up on the triggers that create conflict I think Jody resolve them in a far more preventative manner . ie harm reduction
that my dear Jody. is CAPABLE of being the ALPHA ,
I would like to see Jody be the leader some day, Jody is so VERY SELF CONFIDENT and she has what it takes to be a STRONG FIRM RESPECTED LEADER.
J.B. this is so very interesting, thank you for sitting down to film it and break it down for us. I have watched it a few times and every time I see something different. So much going on.
A few questions:
• Did Missy receive reassurance from Burrito? It looked as if Burrito blew her off?
• You mention that Negra does not get involved unless she was personally wronged, did someone try to take Negra’s food — what caused Negra to go ‘on the attack’ towards Jamie? WOW. Negra may not be fast and she might move slowly but her face, scream (and teeth) had me scared to death. She appeared to be a big, solid force.
• When Jody is on the platform showing her dominance/displaying she shakes a blanket about. I always think of chimps standing up and rocking back and forth to display so the blanket display is interesting. Certainly calls attention to her! (As if the silly sock wasn’t enough!)
• SInce I have been reading about how Negra Hoots The End, it was fun to actually hear her. Do all conflicts end with all chimps pant-hooting? Is this like everyone verbalizing that everything is okay and forgiven.
• Since the final ending is a reconciliation with Missy and Jody I have to ask why isn’t the final reconciliation between Jody and Jamie? Missy jumped in during the middle of the fight. I am very curious.
So much noise really but not much contact, at least not this time. And poor Burrito seemed trapped up there with all those screaming girls below him. Hanging on for dear life! : ) Thank you again, so fascinating.
* It doesn’t seem like Missy got the reassurance she was looking for, but it’s hard to say. In some cases, what they are asking is, “Will you join my side in the fight?”, while at other times they are simply asking, “Will you please not attack me during this fight?”. If they are asking the latter, any response without aggression may be enough. Burrito was probably being careful as well not to take a side in the fight, to avoid becoming entangled in it.
* The conflict actually began over a moment of tension between Jody and Negra. Jody had taken some food that Negra put down, and the two exchanged fear grimaces and then reassured one another. But sometimes a moment like that is a spark that ignites a larger fire. Somehow, Jamie got involved, and that’s when Negra got upset. In the end, Jody and Negra were on the same side despite the fact that it was their disagreement started the whole thing.
* When chimps display, they will exhibit behaviors that make themselves look larger, louder, and more powerful. In the wild, chimps will often shake branches or saplings to achieve the same effect. One of my favorite stories from Gombe is about a male named Mike who came to power based on his impressive displays. He appropriated a couple of empty kerosene cans from the research camp and banged them together as he ran through the group. The other chimps had never seen such an impressive display, and he became alpha. I’m sure the story has been simplified to some extant, but that’s probably true of all great stories.
* Not all conflicts end with pant-hoots, but it is common. As you say, I think it’s a way for them to make the end of the conflict “official” so they can all let their guards down.
* This is a great question, and I don’t have a great answer for it. Jody and Jamie may have reconciled off camera. Or, given the fact that there is long-standing tension between the two, they may not have reconciled, and this may contribute to that tension.
Thank you, thank you, thank you J.B.! I am so fascinated by the chimps I can’t explain it. I clearly have a new found respect and a new perspective of my dear Negra after seeing the video. Her powerful strength was so inspiring. And I have a new respect for sweet, wise Mr. B too. I could listen to your explanations at length and still not feel satiated.
JB- is this the type of screaming that you described Jamie doing every night when she follows Jody around during dinner? I dont know why I am so surprised by this behavior from her. I have this -all alpha, all the time- image of Jamie, so it almost makes me feel sorry for her.
Do you think Jody will eventually take over as the “boss”? And if so, who might be 2nd in command?
Thanks so much for this video and info!! I really hope to see more about their behaviors and relationships. All of the posts here are good, but none quite like you do.
Hi Kerri – I’m sorry if my description of the dynamics between Jody and Jamie in a previous post caused any misunderstanding. They certainly don’t fight at every meal. Rather, when there is a fight, it is often between the two. But yes, the video shows what I was trying to describe. And you’re right, it’s not what we would typically think of as “alpha” behavior.
A few weeks ago, I would have said there was no way Jody would ever become fully dominant over Jamie, but Jamie has been getting less and less support during conflicts from the other chimps, and Jody seems to be pushing back with much more confidence. It seems to me that Missy is still squarely in Jamie’s camp, so until that changes, I think Jamie will maintain her position. In this group, Missy may very well be the king (or queen) maker.
thanks so much for the clarification, I am sure misinterpreted the info.
This is most definitely one of the best and most interesting posts, thanks again
Watching this video made me wish that during conflicts humans would behave like these chimps did. lots of noise but no hitting, scratching or biting. Would you say that there would have been more physical contact if these chimps had been male? very interesting,,,thanks!
Hi Delores – While this fight didn’t result in any injuries, many other fights do. In fact, it’s pretty common to see the chimps with scratches, abrasions, and other small wounds from fights. And once and a while, we see something even worse, like when Jody had her toe bitten off (the culprit remains unidentified 🙂 ). When the fights get serious, you can’t even tell who’s who – it’s just a ball of chimps, all screaming and biting. And there’s nothing you can do but get ready to treat the injured once it’s over.
There are so many variables that affect the severity of conflicts, but I think (?) it’s safe to say that males are, on average, more prone to violent and injurious conflict. Richard Wrangham wrote a book about this, called Demonic Males, which remains somewhat controversial.
An interesting (and also controversial) study was just published in Nature looking at the source of violent conflict in wild communities. The authors argue that killing, while somewhat rare, is natural (adaptive) and not caused by human encroachment as some have theorized. Most of the chimps committing the killing in the study were male.
Oh my gosh, that was the CUTEST fight I ever saw! Very adorable! Sweet, innocent beings.
So enjoyable and educational, thank you! I work at a publishing house in Canada and we have just published a book called Tales from Gombe. I am NOT writing as a salesperson; I am a member of CSN and passionate about chimpanzees, all primates in fact, and many, many other animals. But what I found fascinating is that the book talks about the interactions among the chimps in a way that, after reading the book, I completely understand. The explanation is bang on. Well done.
The politics, personalities, alliances and rules of chimpanzee society are amazing and we have much to learn from them. Writing as an incredibly enthusiastic reader of the book and for those of you that may also be interested, I will tell you that Tales from Gombe is by two photographers who have visited Gombe National Park (where Jane Goodall did her research) several times and they have taken stunning pictures of the chimps and provided a wonderful, sometimes very funny, sometimes very heartbreaking narrative. I definitely recommend it. You will cherish as I do my copy. Cheers and best wishes to all, and to you people, too.
Romola Newport says
If only humans were that forgiving.
Jeani Goodrich says
J.B. Thank you for the video and the narrative with it. I learned a lot about the Cle Elum 7. I would like a narrative about Annie and her changes in the hierarchy of the 7 over the last 6 years. It seems she has changed a lot.
I am just now getting caught up reading these posts after being away for a few weeks. Most of my questions have already been answered here but one. Do you leave a door or gate open when one of these conflicts break out if one or more of the chimps decide they would rather flee than fight? Actually two questions….does this ever happen out on the hill or usually in close quarters inside?
Very interesting interaction between the group and amazing to watch with narration! 🙂
Hi Chris – Yes, our general procedure is to give the chimps access to all areas during the day unless we are cleaning or doing maintenance. As you can see in the video, the chimps go from the greenhouse into the front rooms in the building during the course of this fight. Once a fight breaks out, we are pretty much reduced to spectators, so we just try to keep a general eye on the action as they run from place to place.
Fights do happen on the hill, but they are more common indoors. This is probably due to a combination of factors: the chimps are in closer proximity when they are indoors, they spend more time indoors than outdoors, and more of their meals are served indoors (and the presence of food increases the odds of a conflict happening).
When fights happen indoors, they tend to stay indoors, and when they happen outdoors, the chimps tend to run inside. It’s slightly counterintuitive because they have more room to escape when they are outdoors, but I think it’s because the chimps want to be in a safe and familiar area when they are fighting.
Thanks J.B. Yes, that makes sense…I want to be indoors too during a conflict…yelling is alot more effective that way and besides,,,what would the neighbors think! 🙂
Kidding aside, although no one likes to see the chimps fight…it is one more thing (choice) they get to do in Sanctuary that more mimics their wild behavior. It is just part of their social behavior that we may not understand but necessary to their relationship with one another and or the whole group. (I think) 🙂
J.B., thank you for this astounding “walk through”. There are so many subtle nuances that occur. Brilliant! I’ve watched this over and over again to identify them. Once you see them, it’s a major “ah ha”!! experience.