I know we’ve been uncharacteristically quiet when it comes to the integration of the two Waystation groups. Superstitious or not, none of us want to jinx it! But now that we’ve made it through the first three weeks, I thought I’d take this opportunity to fill you in on just a few of the things that have been happening with this new group.
Who’s the Boss?
One of the biggest questions we all had prior to integrating the two groups was who would maintain the alpha role. Willy B and Cy are both large, powerful males who held comfortable positions as alphas in their previous groups. Their initial one-on-one introductions had us all holding our breath due to the obvious potential for aggression, but they generally got along quite well and the relationship was promising. Once the entire group was together, however, the dynamics became a lot more complicated and neither showed any signs of submitting to the other. Willy B would engage in his characteristically lengthy displays that are seemingly designed to drive everyone crazy – he would find a metal panel or cage door that rattled and he shake it incessantly until everyone else started displaying. While chimpanzee dominance behavior is often viewed through the lens of Machiavellian strategy, Willy B seemed more like someone just bursting with nervous energy and nowhere to direct it. Cy would respond by crashing into the room, bashing on the walls and windows, and stomping his feet on the floor. Throughout the day and all through the evening, they would trade thunderous displays in the playrooms and front rooms, leaving the other boys displaying in their wake and the girls running and screaming. None of us were getting any sleep. Each episode felt like it could be the match that would ignite a larger fire, and though the two would regularly interact in friendlier ways, neither would confront the other directly during times of tension. Until last Sunday.
On Sunday afternoon, Willy B was engaged in one of his protracted displays and the tension was building within the group. Eventually, some smaller conflicts erupted and Cy decided that he’d had enough. He faced off with Willy B in one of the front rooms. Cy was on a bench below Willy B in Front Room 5, and after gradually building up a display he leapt directly at Willy B. Grace and Katelyn were just feet away, garden hose in hand, anxiously hoping that everyone would come away unscathed. As Cy came flying toward the upper bench, Willy B revealed a huge fear grimace and swung around, presenting his back side to Cy. Cy landed on the bench and embraced Willy with both arms. After two weeks of negotiation, Cy had put his foot down and Willy had submitted.
Since then things have seemed a little more orderly within the group. Cy is a patient leader and he doesn’t intervene unless he feels it’s necessary, but if he thinks Willy B is stirring the pot a bit too much, or if Gordo is pushing his luck with Willy B, he has no problem stepping in and quieting everyone down. For his part, Willy B seems a bit relieved to have someone else in charge. Now he can focus all that energy on playing with his new pal, Rayne. And Cy seems relieved to get back to his magazines. We often liken him to a father that tells the kids to play outside so he can read the sports section in peace.
We always knew that Mave would do great in a larger group but we’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well Willy B and Honey B are getting along with their new family. Willy B adores Rayne – I’ve never seen him as expressive as when he is playing with his new pal. And while Honey B tends to be more of a loner in general, she is part of a new clique that Diana has dubbed “the mall walkers”. Each playroom has a second floor catwalk that extends around all four sides of the room and overlooks the main floor below, similar to those fancy indoor malls where people of a certain age do their speed-walking. Each morning, beginning around 7am, Honey B, Dora, and Rayne walk laps around the second floor of each playroom together, often playing but otherwise just getting their steps in.
Eight is Enough
Each morning we serve breakfast in one or more of the greenhouses and playrooms and attempt to close off an area for cleaning. Eight of the chimps happily cooperate. Honey B does not. This isn’t any different than when she lived in her group of three, but early in the introduction process there was a concern that we’d have to reintroduce her each morning if she was separated during cleaning due to her reluctance to shift. Despite the fact that she would have been living happily with the group just hours prior, these reintroductions had the potential to cause tension and hinder the integration process. Thankfully, she has been able to come and go as she pleases without issue, and a couple hours of alone time seems to give her a great deal of comfort.
It can takes months, even years, for two groups to become fully integrated, meaning that they no longer fall back on old, familiar patterns of association. Right now we are seeing two distinct patterns. During the day, the chimps act as though they have always been one big group. Willy B is often at the center of early morning grooming parties on the greenhouse tree structures, Honey B plays and walks laps with Rayne and Dora, and Mave is everywhere at all times doing everything with everyone. But at night, it’s back to three and six. Mave, Honey B, and Willy B make their nests in the front rooms – specifically Front Room 6 – while the others sleep on the catwalks and nesting platforms in the two playrooms. They are all free to sleep where they choose, but for now it seems there’s comfort in sticking with the old gang when it’s time to let your guard down and catch some sleep.
One Day at a Time
When it comes to group formation, there is no point at which we will pat ourselves on the back and declare victory. But whatever happens, I think we can celebrate the introduction process and these first three weeks that they have lived as a full group. Honestly, there have been many days over the last few weeks when the Cle Elum Seven bickered more than the nine. And they’ve lived together for 16 years! Still, chimps will be chimps, and there will be plenty of fights ahead. More importantly, however, there will also be plenty of playing, grooming, reassuring, even mall-walking – all the things we’d dreamed about when we first met Honey B, Willy B, and Mave and imagined them in larger family.