It’s been a stressful week. Intros are tough! They can be exhilarating and heartwarming, but there’s a whole lot of anxiety that permeates almost every moment for the staff. Our colleague Jen Feuerstein left last evening, with some suggested next steps for us. When the staff is all back together, we will regroup and make some plans. We don’t need to come to any particular point on a certain timeline, so we can move forward at our own pace and play things by ear. All in all the process so far has been a success with some promising potential.
We know that some chimpanzees need more experience with intros, so we’ll be doing some more one-on-one meet and greets. In particular, Terry, Gordo, and Dora haven’t been as easy to set up for intros, so we’ll be making a concerted effort to give them some more opportunities.
Cy participated in all of the intros throughout this last week and so far is proving himself to be a well-balanced leader who doesn’t provoke easily. Willy B REALLY likes Cy, which is perhaps cause for some uncertainty and concern with Terry and Gordo, so having Willy B get to know the other boys better is one of our goals.
Somewhat to our surprise, as J.B. mentioned earlier in the week, Mave has not been the gentle mediator that we saw her to be when we attempted the intros with the original group of seven. She’s more obviously nervous, sometimes holding back and sometimes acting gruffly. We did see her interpersonal savvy come forward on Thursday when she comforted Terry, so perhaps she is good a understanding when her particular skills are most needed.
The stand-out happy surprise so far is Honey B. In his notes to everyone yesterday about the intros and her role in them, J.B. referred to Honey B as a “total professional.” She is reading the other chimps and not pushing them too much, but still trying to engage with them when she can. She has been staying out of the way during the big displays and most of the conflicts. It could all change the next time we involve her in an introduction, but, so far we all feel quite proud of her.
We have lots and lots of observations and stories, but I wanted to share two small anecdotes from the week that were amusing to me and illustrate the complicated nature of chimpanzees, and then share a few photos from today’s beautiful and much more relaxed fall day!
First story – My overnight sleepover with Honey B, Willy B, Cy, and Lucky on Monday night was not very restful for anyone.
Every few hours, Cy and Willy B would erupt in loud and boisterous displays, which were echoed (or perhaps in reaction to) displaying from chimpanzees in other parts of the building. Displaying is a normal part of being a chimpanzee. Male chimpanzees in particular frequently display, and it would seem that they equate the amount of commotion contained within their displays with their individual power. It’s serious business.
In captivity, there’s a lot of pounding and shaking of caging, raking objects across the floor, punching and back-hand-thumping benches and doors, and of course pant-hooting. While displays are perfectly normal, they certainly can and do lead to conflict. Adrenaline rises as the displays become more exuberant, and subordinate chimpanzees often take a thumping from the displayer, which can result in screaming and further escalation. Or if males are in competition, a display can be the working-up to a direct act of aggression.
Lucky and Honey B deftly navigated their shared rooms while Cy and Willy B showed off, smartly staying out of their way, without appearing overly anxious. I can’t say that I shared their seeming lack of anxiety.
Here’s the funny bit of the story – a few times during these very raucous bouts of displaying, with Cy an impressive illustration of the power and force of male chimpanzee-ness, he would rather suddenly stop, sit down, and flip through the pages of a magazine. And then, a few minutes later, resume his displaying again.
Willy B and Cy didn’t direct their displays at one another, and the four generally didn’t interact much during the night, but the next morning Cy and Willy B were grooming and Lucky and Honey B were playing, then they peacefully separated back to their original groups at breakfast. We’re definitely counting that as a successful overnight.
Second story – on Thursday afternoon, the Cy-Terry-Mave-Willy B “quad” ended with Willy B chasing off Terry, who screamed for some time, even after he was safely separated. This screaming caught the ear of Jamie’s group in the adjacent playroom and their displaying in response led to a conflict within that group. It lasted several minutes, with the chimps running from playroom to front rooms to greenhouse on the old side of the building.
After several loud minutes, I watched Foxie suddenly embrace Jamie from behind, which calmed Jamie. We see Foxie jump in to calm members of her group frequently during tense situations. Like Mave, we have sometimes referred to Foxie as the mediator of her group. So, “little Foxie the mediator” is what I thought I was witnessing. However, a few minutes later, when the staff who had been watching that conflict from different areas got together to compare notes, I learned that just minutes prior to Foxie embracing Jamie, she had pushed Jamie off a ledge in the greenhouse. So, perhaps what I witnessed was not a brave act of mediation but more a desperate apology. Either way, that hug and a subsequent approach of Missy to Jamie, is what ended the argument.
Chimpanzees, like humans, and like most beings, cannot be summed up with a few words. Their personalities and interactions with one another are constantly in development and ever complicated. It makes them lovable, fascinating, and, at times such as when you are bringing strangers together, cause for anxiety and all sorts of surprises.
On to the photos from today! What a perfect autumn day it was. Young’s Hill was aglow and the chimpanzees looked fantastic against the backdrop of the golden grass.