Willy B remains somewhat of a mystery to me and to some of the chimpanzees too, I think.
Maybe he’s the big silent type. He definitely can be difficult to read and he rarely makes eye contact when I’m serving him food. That trait, combined with his size, has caused me to affectionately refer to him as a gorilla.
He seems to take time to feel settled and is rather aloof in new situations. With all of the many new experiences and combinations of new chimpanzees he’s been meeting, he’s been pretty aloof for the last few weeks, with very rare breaks to let his guard down for a bit to play with Burrito.
Most of the time, he’s been keeping to himself. Today, we gave him and the rest of the group access to the front rooms for the first time. He’s seen other chimps in those rooms, but hasn’t really had the chance to hang out in them. He seemed to enjoy the option to get away from the group and it gave us the chance to snap a couple of photos of him (above) in front room four, which we also call the “portrait studio” because of the nice lighting.
It was the first time in over a month that I’ve been able to get him to respond just a little to my invitation to play chase. It didn’t last long, but he did his characteristic double-tap across front room three a couple of times. Maybe he was just humoring me.
Despite his relatively mellow nature, as he gets more comfortable, we have observed him being the tiniest bit intimidating at meals. All it takes from this large guy is the slightest look or a motion of his arm, presumably indicating that he wants the food being served, and the female chimpanzees next to him react in fear. I don’t blame them! He’s a gorilla!
Interestingly, Burrito doesn’t seem intimidated by him at meals and will sit right next to him when they are being served, even taking food that Willy B has dropped. Is this because Willy B doesn’t want to dominate Burrito in the same way he easily does the females, or is he playing it cool for the moment until he gets more comfortable? We’ll just have to wait and see.
Burrito has actually surprised us quite a bit. We tend to think of him as someone who gets wound up and just can’t contain his energy, but he’s clearly modulating his displays and being careful not to charge anyone. Who knew Burrito had so much self control? The calming presence of Mave is likely helping him (these two have been grooming a LOT), but even before she was added to the group on Thursday, Burrito was impressing us with his heretofore-unknown ability to keep his composure. Even chimpanzees we’ve known for over a decade can surprise us.