Things have changed at CSNW.
Many, if not most, male former laboratory chimps are what people in the zoo world refer to as behavioral non-breeders. In short, they were raised in such unnatural ways (e.g., in human homes or in nursery peer groups) that they never learned “normal” sexual behavior. This isn’t to say that they don’t express any sexual behavior at all. Willy B, for example, loves to watch videos of female chimps on our phones – especially Jamie – which puts us in a somewhat uncomfortable position at times. And Diana and I worked with a chimpanzee that was notorious for getting women to bend down towards him so he could look down their shirts. But a large number of them don’t copulate. In fact, none of the groups that I’ve cared for long-term over the past 20+ years has included a male that does.
For whatever reason, this wondrous ball of fluff named Terry defied the odds and loves to express his natural behavior on a regular basis with Dora. Which is great. But because sanctuaries don’t allow breeding, it raises the stakes of our contraception program. Terry was vasectomized, but that may need to be checked down the road as they do sometimes fail. Or the females in his group could be put on oral contraceptives as we have done with other groups during intros or for ongoing medical reasons. Stopping in for the chimps’ birth control always delights the folks at the local pharmacy.
Diana’s been on a kick lately trying to add to the genealogical data we already have for chimps in sanctuaries. So many of the chimps we’ve cared for in other sanctuaries are closely related to the chimps we care for now. And often the resemblances are uncanny. This is in part due to the fact that it’s a relatively small population, but it’s also because of how few of the chimps in labs exhibited breeding behavior. Terry, for his part, was born towards the end of large-scale breeding in labs and was released from the lab at a young age so he was never used to produce more chimpanzees for research.
I can’t tell you how much I love Cy. He really is a sweet, gentle guy. Tonight we watched the first real conflict among his group since they got to CSNW. Gordo was terribly upset (we don’t know why) and he followed Cy around, screaming incessantly while trying to get others to join him in going after the big man. But Cy, who is a good 30 pounds larger, held back and allowed Gordo to get whatever it was off his chest without engaging further. And no one backed Gordo in his efforts. Eventually some of the others got in a scuffle due to the group’s arousal level but that ended quickly.
This is what so many primatologists try in vain to convey about alpha males – the best alphas don’t rule solely through aggression and intimidation. They settle disputes. They promote cohesion in the group. They are loved and respected. Now we haven’t even gotten to know this group well enough yet to confirm that Cy is in fact the undisputed leader, but he certainly has some of the makings.
Honey B isn’t a big fan of change. She’s the nervous type, often retreating to a corner and clutching blankets when she feels the slightest bit stressed (something I remember vividly from our first encounter at her previous home). And with all of the new chimps, new facilities, and changes in enclosure access, I would expect her to have some anxiety. But all in all she has been doing quite well. The other day I played chase with her and she repeated ran across the grass in the greenhouse, which is a big step. And at this point she hasn’t been too much of a bully to her new (and old) friends across the hall. Though there’s still time.