Primatologist Robert Yerkes once said, “One chimpanzee is no chimpanzee.” Spend a single morning watching the Cle Elum Seven and you will know exactly what he meant.
Archives for August 2016
Foxie has an interesting relationship with her dolls. At times she beats them with wooden spoons or bites their limbs off, and at other times she snuggles them to her chest and kisses them. They serve multiple functions: they’re playthings, they provide comfort and companionship, and they’re there when she feels the urge to nurture.
We run a pretty tight ship in the chimp house. Given the decades of uncertainty, fear, and stress that the chimps faced, it’s important for them to have a routine in which they can trust and know what to expect and when things will occur. And there’s a lot for the humans to get done each day to keep the chimps’ healthy, engaged and happy, as well as to keep their home clean, safe and comfortable. Of course, within that routine we add as much variety as possible to their days in the form of enrichment, activities, food, interactions, etc. But despite the best laid plans, each day in the chimp house can be unique unto itself due to the chimpanzees’ choices and needs for the day, staffing and volunteer changes, unexpected circumstances, and a myriad of other reasons.
Take today for example, we started out cleaning the chimp house like any other morning only to end up relocating a mouse mama and her newborn babies, spending a good half hour (successfully!) catching and releasing a hummingbird, and then ushering out a snake and a Swallowtail butterfly by the time things were done. If you’re new to the blog, chimpanzees are very territorial and completely unwelcoming of guests in their home so the chimp house is no place for other creatures and we do our best to rescue anyone whose made a poor choice to make a chimp house call.
Here’s Missy taking a break from chasing Annie to check on our progress in the greenhouse so the chimps can go in for breakfast:
And in between all the tasks of the day Anna and I took turns walking with Jamie under bright blue skies and in a blazing 95 degrees. Now Jamie often enjoys taking her time on these walks and we don’t blame her. She likes to spend time under the crow’s nest on the Twister structure to check on the neighborhood happenings. Please note the boss lady also enjoys sitting under the crow’s nest for the lovely shade it provides. The caregivers who walk with Jamie, however, have no such luck. So during this particular walk, I sat down and waited for her to decide it was time to move on…
and waited. But don’t be fooled into thinking Jamie is so busy she’s unaware of us or where she left us off. (And if you’re wondering, yes, she gets upset if we decide to take the initiative to leave or go in another direction on our own!). So as it became clear that Jamie was going to be awhile, and with black cowboy boots blazing on my feet like the fire of a thousand burning suns, I thought I might as well make myself a little more comfortable and take them off while Jamie did her thing. Oh, I could not have been more wrong. Jamie immediately turned to me and gestured with her hand to put them back on. So you see, Jamie also runs a tight ship.
Meanwhile back in the chimp house, after playroom cleaning was done we added a new addition of a personalized photo blanket for Negra that one of her wonderful pals sent to her. Foxie was the first to check it out (notice her hand on Negra’s photo):
And here’s Negra making a nest with her new blanket:
The chimps then enjoyed a lunch forage on Young’s Hill (including fresh watermelon and cabbage donated by a guest). And in other news, Annie continues to sport the blue ’80’s style sweatband that she made a bold fashion choice with yesterday. Missy even pulled it off of her during a play session, but Annie put it right back on. (I can’t tell you how this makes my heart smile!):
Later in the afternoon, I found good friends, Burrito, Foxie (and Dora), feeling snoozy in the warm greenhouse and enjoying the summer breeze:
After a small afternoon snack of green beans and cherry tomatoes straight from the garden, the chimps gathered for dinner in the greenhouse which included fresh sweet potatoes donated by our amazing friends at Darwin’s Natural Pet Products. (L to R): Missy, Burrito, Foxie’s ear :), and Jamie:
After the chimps are served dinner, they receive their beloved night bags (if you’re unfamiliar with these, they are small bags of dried fruit, nuts and seeds that the chimps receive each evening). Here’s Jody enjoying hers in one of her classic relaxed poses:
As I finish up this post, the chimps have received their evening food puzzle of frozen banana and peanut butter in PVC tubes and are tucked into their nests for the night in the cool chimp house. Some of the doors are still open and a finally cooling evening breeze is drifting in, and all is perfectly still and quiet. Except that is, for the boss lady, Jamie. A boss’s job is never done. And in this case neither are her caregivers’. At least until she decides otherwise. So now we’re off to look for those cowboy boots which, of course, are made for walking. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
At the sanctuary, the chimpanzees have access to a daily changing assortment of toys, blankets, clothing and other items (all double checked by staff for safety). Clothing can be a popular item to add to sleeping nests, and we all know about Jamie’s cowboy boot obsession. Every now and then, a chimpanzee will take special interest in something specific that they may then choose to wear. I emphasized the “choose” part of that sentence, because we never force or demand the chimpanzees to wear clothing.
Today, Annie took notice of a stretchy ’80s style exercise headband. Instead of the more traditional forehead placement, she chose to wear it as a strikingly noticeable belt.
When you’re the most playful guy around, you quickly perfect your play initiation strategies.
Following a routine each day allows for the chimps to know what to expect next. We start by serving a snack in the morning shortly after arriving. Then we clean the Greenhouse portion of their enclosure and once that is done, we finish serving breakfast. Sometimes, instead of serving meals, we mix it up by spreading the food around the various enclosures for the chimps to forage. Either way, the chimps know that when we are finished cleaning, locking up and going through all of our safety checks, they will get access to the newly cleaned area. Shortly after breakfast, they are given access to Young’s Hill (their outdoor enclosure). Following this routine helps the chimps make their own decisions about participating in meals and how they would like to spend their time (staying indoors or exploring Young’s Hill, for instance).
This morning, Jody seemed to be on a mission after breakfast was done. Knowing that I would open door Y (the door leading from the Greenhouse to Young’s Hill) after breakfast, she sat right by the door waiting. As soon as I did, she went straight for a mound at the top of the hill and I followed her (from the other side of the electric fences, of course) to see where she was headed.
Turns out, the mound at the top of Young’s Hill is still full of tasty wild plants, despite the yellowing foliage. I watched her pick some of the plants and eat them individually and then witnessed her “stripping” some of the other plants. She placed her hand at the base of the plant stem and drew upwards, stripping the plants of their leaves and then stuffing them in her mouth. Watching this reminded me of the videos I’ve seen of wild chimpanzees stripping termites off of the blades of grass they used to dip into holes in termite mounds. (The termites pinch the blades of grass and hold on as the chimpanzees pull the grass from the mound. Then the chimps eat the termites using their hands or mouths).
In her book In the Shadow of Man, Jane Goodall wrote about a chimpanzee named Mike at Gombe who used a clever device to quickly rise in the hierarchy of his group.
Here’s an excerpt from her book, which I found on this webpage:
Mike’s rise to the number one or top-ranking position in the chimpanzee community was both interesting and spectacular. In 1963 Mike had ranked almost bottom in the adult male dominance hierarchy. He had been the last to gain access to bananas, and had been threatened and actually attacked by almost every other adult male. At one time he even had appeared almost bald from losing so many handfuls of hair during aggressive incidents with his fellow apes. One day at camp, all at once Mike calmly walked over to our tent and took hold of an empty kerosene can by the handle. Then he picked up a second can and, walking upright, returned to the place where he had been sitting. Armed with his two cans Mike stared toward the other males. After a few minutes he began to rock from side to side. At first the movement was almost imperceptible, but Hugo and I were watching him closely. Gradually, he rocked more vigorously, his hair slowly began to stand erect, and then, softly at first, he started a series of pant-hoots. As he called, Mike got to his feet and suddenly he was off, charging toward the group of males, hitting the two cans ahead of him. The cans, together with Mike’s crescendo of hooting, made the most appalling racket: no wonder the erstwhile peaceful males rushed out of the way. Mike and his cans vanished down a track, and after a few moments there was silence. Some of the males reassembled and resumed their interrupted grooming session, but the others stood around somewhat apprehensively. After a short interval that low-pitched hooting began again, followed almost immediately by the appearance of the two rackety cans with Mike close behind them. Straight for the other males, he charged, and once more they fled. This time, even before the group could reassemble, Mike set off again; but he made straight for Goliath – and even he hastened out of his way like all the others. Then Mike stopped and sat, all his hair on end, breathing hard. His eyes glared ahead and his lower lip was hanging slightly down so that the pink inside showed brightly and gave him a wild appearance.
Mike’s actions on that day allowed the other chimpanzees, including Goliath, the leader of the group, to see him as a force to be reckoned with – Mike’s use of the cans that made an unfamiliar and very loud, intimidating sound in his display was nothing short of brilliant.
Chimpanzees in captivity have access to many man-made objects that make impressive sounds, and they too demonstrate forethought in the objects that they use during displaying.
Today, when the chimpanzees were given access to Young’s Hill, their outdoor habitat, for their lunch forage, Burrito headed for the triangular structure that we call Negra’s cabin. The cabin has lexan panels that can be hit and kicked to cause a loud noise in the otherwise quiet of the hill.
I imagine it feels pretty good too:
This one is blurry, but you can make out Burrito’s open mouth as he was ending his pant-hoot in a scream:
The display was a little lost on the other chimps, who just went about their business – they’ve heard that one before.
Jamie and Negra:
I didn’t get a photo of Annie – she was very efficient with her foraging and quickly returned to the cooler environment of the greenhouse.
Humans have their own ways of “displaying,” but sometimes I wonder if it would be helpful if we periodically displayed in the same way that chimps do. Perhaps you can try it this weekend – find something that makes a lot of noise, bang or kick it like you mean it, and let out a tremendous yell. Maybe you won’t raise in the ranks of the hierarchy among your friends, but I imagine you’ll feel a sense of released tension afterwards.