Chimpanzees are intelligent, emotional, and complex. They deserve the utmost respect.
This is their home and their retirement, and it’s their right to be however they want to be. This fact makes me appreciate how chimpanzees can be not only relaxed but also downright goofy. When they group is in a playful mood, even the most stoic of chimps can be a total dork. For us caregivers, stopping to appreciate these weird moments helps to keeps things lighthearted and reminds us what this sanctuary thing is all about. It’s perfectly okay to laugh along with them.
In the past, we’ve highlighted some of the comical new behaviors that the chimpanzees invent in their spare time (e.g., Annie’s and Honey B’s waistbands, Willy B’s slinky moves, Missy’s choice of grooming tools, Mave’s toe socks and Jamie’s flamboyant scarves). Of course, none of these creations are purely spontaneous and random. Even the most innovative aspects of their behavior are influenced by both their current surroundings and past experiences.
Honey B’s behavior seems to be especially shaped by her previous and ongoing interactions with humans. As one of the more inquisitive and interactive chimpanzees at the sanctuary, she likes to be involved in whatever her caregivers are doing and seems to enjoy making us happy. It’s in her nature to be helpful. We try not to bother the chimps with unnecessary requests, but we do have to ask them for certain favors that help us caregivers to do our jobs. On a daily basis, for example, we ask the chimpanzees to shift from one enclosure to another so that we can safely go inside and clean up. They usually do this without any coaxing because there is something more interesting to do elsewhere. Sometimes, however, there are objects or materials blocking the hydraulic doors that prevent us from remotely operating them and therefore delay shifting. In those moments, we can usually ask a passing chimpanzee to kindly remove the obstruction. Honey B, however, exceeds the expectations.
A few weeks ago, the three chimps who live in the new wing were shifting out of the upstairs Mezzanine and into the new front rooms and chute on the ground floor. There was a tangled slinky that was preventing Kelsi from remotely shutting the door behind them. We asked Honey B to remove the toy, which by then resembled a bird’s nest, and she eagerly scrambled to disentangle the entire thing before tossing it through the open doorway. Then, for safe measure, Honey B collected nearby slinkies (which weren’t tangled and weren’t blocking the door) and chucked them downstairs as well.
In the following weeks, she has surprised us all by continuing to throw available enrichment items through doorways before they we close them. Every morning she flips the previous night’s blankets and night bags through the lower-level doors before heading up to the Mezzanine for breakfast, and she has even started to hurl larger toys down the incline of the chute and out into her group’s alcove of Young’s Hill (now known as “The Courtyard”). With the input of a few enthusiastic and amused volunteers, I have unofficially named this behavior The Chonk. I’m not sure how well this name fits the behavior since the term chonk is usually applied to overweight cats on the internet, but the sound of the word makes me chuckle. (Thanks, Elizabeth C!)
I would love to know exactly what Honey B is thinking as she yeets enrichment out onto the Hill, but I can only speculate. I sincerely hope that, whatever her motivation may be, that she’s having as much fun as I am.
Keep on chonkin’, Honey B.