Chimpanzees are experts at playing whatever hand nature deals for them.
In this weekend’s case, most of the chimps took advantage of the unusual warm weather by choosing to recreate outdoors. (If you’re wondering, Cle Elum’s average high temperature is 35F for January.) For the seven chimpanzees living on one side of the building, that meant another day of frequent romps around Young’s Hill with caregivers. Burrito, in particular, has been racing around the Hill with a new fervor lately.
Around mid-day, we closed the door separating Burrito’s group from the Hill and let the other three chimps have access to the Courtyard. Currently, Willy B is the only one of the three who ventures beyond the enclosed chute, initially doing so in pursuit of food. We don’t always scatter food out in the Courtyard now that he seems to go outside just for the sake of going outside, but I thought that an impromptu scavenger hunt might make the day a little more interesting for him. I tossed some raw, hard-shelled walnuts and tiny pieces of chewing gum over the fence before opening their door. Willy B immediately began his Courtyard ritual; he loped out onto the raised boardwalk, grabbed an easy walnut, and sat down to survey the landscape.
Surprisingly, Honey B was also extremely interested in the forage and eagerly scanned the Courtyard from the safety of the chute. This is a rare occurrence; both Honey B and Mave usually hang further back in the chute while Willy has the Courtyard to himself. Today, Honey B was almost certainly after the small tablets of sugar-free chewing gum, one of her favorite snacks. She eagerly collected the two pieces of gum that were closest to the doorway and grunted as she popped them into her mouth. Willy, on the other hand, was narrowly focused on the encapsulated legumes. Then, Honey B noticed a hidden walnut that Willy B had missed, just within reach. She slowly extended an arm out into the grassy Courtyard…
… but at that exact moment, Willy happened to turn towards the chute. He coincidentally saw Honey B reaching out from the chute and scolded her with a sharp sputter. Their relationship has been tested lately, so I was eager to see how the two strong-willed individuals would handle this conflict of interests. On Wednesday, Honey B furiously retaliated against Willy for stealing part of her breakfast and even won her food back. Such reversals are uncommon; subordinate chimps tend to respect the dominance hierarchy because compliance is both easier and safer than resisting. In general, maintaining stability is more important that whatever temporary reward is at stake.
As you can see in today’s photos, the two friends still have a few cuts from last week’s scrap but the normal dynamic seems to have returned. This afternoon, Honey B decided to not test Willy’s tolerance over a single walnut. Instead, she retreated, leaving Willy B the undisputed Walnut King.
While Willy was methodically gathering all the walnuts, the chewing gum was still available and unguarded. Honey B, who is still uncomfortable with the idea of leaving the chute, used the available tools to pull the gum closer and then scampered off with her due reward.