Someone recently donated two cardboard forts for the chimpanzees. Mave and Willy B had a really good time playing in and destroying theirs yesterday, while the group of seven left theirs intact to see another day. It’s hard to tell in the photo below, but these are big forts – big enough for a chimpanzee to fit inside.
This morning as we were just opening up the chimp house, Foxie was in the room with the fort, just walking past it. We both did a double-take when we heard some rustling and what sounded like knocking coming from inside. I’m not much of a morning person, so I wasn’t 100% sure of what I heard. But then out popped Burrito!
It reminded me of two things: First, this is my kind of humor. I remember years ago I hid inside a brand new garbage can to surprise a friend. I think it was a lot funnier to me than my friend. Second, also years ago, I did my masters thesis on play initiation in chimpanzees, specifically five chimpanzees who were living at the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute at Central Washington University (the two chimpanzees who are still living from that group, Tatu and Loulis, now live at the Fauna Foundation in Quebec).
Gathering data for my thesis was a joy because I spent hours watching videotapes (yes, actual videotapes – I told you it was years ago) of chimpanzees playing. From what I recall, most of the instances of play initiation were between friends Moja and Tatu, and I remember more than one instance of Tatu hiding behind a wall and then jumping out at Moja when she walked past, with a raucous game of chase ensuing.
We witness the chimpanzees initiate play all of the time here at the sanctuary, and often the initiator is Burrito. He’s a very funny and fun-loving guy with his human and chimpanzee friends.
Even when he’s spending time alone, he seems to amuse himself. While we were cleaning the playroom, I looked into the greenhouse and saw Burrito sitting in a box eating breakfast leftovers. He had pulled his scooter up next to him.
Without a doubt, humor has gotten me through some otherwise tough times and made good times even better. Maybe joke-telling or sharing humorous thoughts is the human equivalent of initiating play. I think that’s how I will think of it now.