Have I told you how much I like Mave?
Today, as I was cleaning, I watched Honey B and Annie start to play. At this point in the process we are thrilled when previously unfamiliar chimps engage in play, but this made my heart stop. Annie is extremely insecure and she has a tendency to overreact at the slightest provocation, real or imagined. Long-time blog readers may remember some early difficulties between Annie and Foxie for just this reason. Honey B, on the other hand, is very confident – so confident, in fact, that she doesn’t bother to think about how others might perceive her actions. Add to the mix the fact that she shows her top teeth when playing and has already gone out of her way to assert her dominance over Annie already and you could see where this was going to end up. The game turned from a slow-motion chase to a raucous tickle fight, and before long Honey B had wrestled Annie into a corner.
We have a policy of not interacting with the chimps during critical periods of the introduction process because the chimps may see us as a source of support when in fact we are of no help at all on the other side of the caging if and when things go south. But as I watched Honey B hover over Annie, I involuntarily whispered, “OK, Honey B, that’s enough,” perhaps hoping that if I just put it out there into the universe it would manifest. And at that moment, Mave walked all the way across the room and wiggled her way between the two without engaging either. Mave plays everything close to the vest, and she made it appear as if she had somewhere to be and was just shuffling though. But I know that she saw the train wreck coming, too.
That kind of social intelligence is invaluable for this group right now. And when it comes wrapped in a such a big, fuzzy package, how can you not fall in love?
OK, enough about Mave (for now).
We saw a lot of progress today. There were fewer arguments and no injuries. And the arguments they did have seemed less related to interpersonal dominance struggles and more to do with overall anxiety and misinterpreted behavior. Just as importantly, we saw a lot of affiliative interactions. Chimps from different families reassured each other during moments of tension. Missy and Annie even spent some time grooming Willy B in the greenhouse.
The girls are both scared of and awed by him and they greet him with elaborate submissive gestures. He has largely avoided them but he is beginning to accept their submission more readily. He even went out of his way to groom Jody this afternoon (until Annie started screaming).
The group has been getting more comfortable at mealtime, which requires them to be in closer proximity with the potential for competition over food, though we definitely bring enough for everyone. Jody seemed pleased to get a spot next to the big man at lunch.
The big man, however, is a little more focused on food right now.
Overall, the new three seem to be incredibly comfortable while Missy, Annie, and to some extent Jody, continue to show signs of anxiety. And that’s understandable – they have been separated from many of the chimps that they have always relied on for support. Missy is always Jamie’s Number 2 and Annie always relies on Missy’s steadiness when things get tough. Now that we’ve tinkered with the group, the dynamics have changed.
But this was done to protect Honey B, Willy B, and Mave and so far it seems like a wise choice. That’s the thing about introductions, though – you can always make a plausible argument for doing it differently. Should chimps meet one-on-one or in groups? Should they first spend time with each other separated by mesh or does that only lead to frustration? Should introductions be done over the course of a week or over six months to a year? Should dominant chimps be integrated first, last, or in the middle? Should overly anxious chimps be medicated to help calm them? How severe does an injury need to be to stop the process? While there is some science to inform our decisions, there are simply too many facility designs and too many chimpanzee personalities in this world to be able to rely on a formula.
So we’ll continue to take this one day at a time and rely on Mave to lead the way.