Yesterday, Diana wrote the blog about a routine only Jamie would have. As a dominant and strong-willed chimp who is usually an active participant in social drama, Jamie has a tendency to express herself by displaying in the Playroom.
Today, Jamie kept up her steady pace by unleashing yet another raucous display on the residents of the sanctuary. She certainly had everyone’s attention.
To complement yesterday’s video, I tried my best to capture some still images of Jamie in action.
The Jamie Method:
Immediately afterwards, Burrito used the same barrel to observe the neighboring chimps. He had a much more friendly demeanor.
The Bubba Method:
In the following hours, the seven original residents in Jamie and Burrito’s group sprawled out on the upper deck of the wooden structure in the Greenhouse.
Perhaps they had forgotten that their neighbors had an identical barrel on the other side of the building, but they were soon reminded. The seven chimps were suddenly awoken by a chorus of hooting and drumming. The source of all this noise was Willy B. As a large and dominant male, Willy is tactful in his use of displays. He doesn’t overdo it like some brasher males I have met, but he certainly makes sure that his performances are explosive, timely and poignant. Mave and Honey B have a knack for getting out of his way whenever he begins to drum. Willy B may have won this battle of displays.
The Willy B Method:
Willy’s display drew Jamie out onto Young’s Hill. From her vantage near the Greenhouse, Jamie could watch the chute for further activity.
Outside of the sanctuary, there’s a lot going on right now.
Most of you are probably well aware of the uncertainty and trepidation surrounding COVID-19, and we have been altering our operations to ensure that this pandemic has no effect on the chimpanzees. If you’re wondering exactly how we are adjusting, I recommend reading this letter to our community that Diana sent out yesterday.
Obviously, we are doing our best to minimize the potential for pathogen transmission into the sanctuary while maximizing social distancing. Unlike many Washington state employers, however, we can’t just completely close down the office and have everybody work from home. Our staff needs to continue providing the chimpanzees with healthy meals, engaging activities, secure enclosures and clean surroundings, albeit now with a much smaller team of personnel than we are accustomed to. That’s okay, though. Our core team is pretty good at this caregiving stuff, and we don’t think the chimps have noticed that there are unprecedented measures being taken across the globe in response to a new and unusual coronavirus.
Today, I took some time after lunch to observe the chimpanzees as they foraged, relaxed, socialized and exercised. I also casually took some photographs to share with you all.
I always find that watching them go about their day is grounding and encouraging, and I am proud that we can continue to offer them a peaceful sanctuary home even in the strangest of times. Stay mindful, everyone.
To me, if life boils down to one thing, it’s movement. To live is to keep moving.
– Jerry Seinfeld
The relationship between chimpanzees and their physical environment is complicated. In particular, the way that they move around and think about these spaces is impossible to fully understand, but it’s still very important to think about.
As some of you may know, free-living chimpanzees form loose communities that collectively inhabit contiguous areas of land called home ranges. These forested territories are expansive and it is rare to see all (or even most) of a community’s members in the same location at the same time. Instead, each community splits up into small subgroups, often referred to as parties. In such a system, each individual has the capacity to split from its current party, go solo, or join a new one at any time. These changes occur over the course of minutes, hours, days and even weeks, so that chimpanzees in the same community may go a fortnight without seeing each other or, conversely, may spend most of their time traveling together. Although the ability to transfer between different communities is limited to young adult females, all mature chimps can generally associate freely among their community’s subgroups.
The patterns in which individuals associate with one another across space and time are known in the scientific community as fission-fusion dynamics and are influenced by diverse biological factors such as resource availability, habitat quality, mating prospects, social ranks, individual personalities, community demographics, and the potential risk of violence. Even with all of these variables in the mix, there is one rule that governs chimpanzee society:
Each chimpanzee gets to make choices.
In captive settings, chimpanzees are subjected to space restrictions that inhibit their ability to move freely across the landscape. Historically, chimps were often housed alone in tiny steel cages that inhibited most, if not all movement. Today, many modern sanctuaries allow their chimpanzee residents to roam across large outdoor habitats. Even in the best of these controlled environments, however, there are always artificial barriers that limit where the chimpanzees can go. Therefore, we sanctuaries are challenged to securely contain chimpanzees while minimizing the effect that such confinement has on their overall experience.
Of course, the Chimp House at CSNW provides the chimpanzees with the security and comfort that comes with warmth, shade, cover, food, enrichment items, and so on. Critically, it also gives the chimpanzees the opportunity to move among several adjoined spaces at will. For example, as volunteer Miranda was serving today’s breakfast to the chimpanzees in the Greenhouse, Jody split off from the group and chose to sit alone in one of the adjacent indoor spaces for a short while. It was her choice to distance herself from the others, for whatever reason. Whether a primatologist would actually call this a fission event or not would depend on their parameters, since distinguishing emergent patterns from such complex social dynamics inevitably requires arbitrary rules. Even though it’s doubtful that Jody would care about the semantics of it all, she’s probably well aware of the benefits offered by the ability to move to a different space. Perhaps she even appreciates it.
Subjectively, it’s clear that the chimpanzees at CSNW associate in patterns that parallel the fluid communities of their wild counterparts. As evidence of this, we caregivers witness many moments of separation and reunion that occur dozens of times each day among all of the chimpanzees. Sometimes they are marked by dramatic greetings or observable tension, but most of these simple moments pass without conflict or celebration. It may seem mundane, but this constant flux is the foundation of chimpanzee society and is presumed by many behaviorists to be a key component of their welfare. I would even argue that freedom to choose one’s physical and social surroundings, along with protection from exploitation and abuse, is the most important aspect of sanctuary life.
Today, the chimpanzees were fissioning and fusioning (or is it fusing?) all over the place. It’s often challenging to predict where a chimpanzee will be at any given time, but those of us who spend a lot of time in the Chimp House do get a sense for their individual preferences. Each chimp seems to have their own favorite spots for each time of day, activity, or mood. Please enjoy the following photographs from today of the chimpanzees doing whatever they wanted to do, wherever they wanted to do it.
I’ve finally posted the video showing the highlights from Willyfest 2020!
Thank you all for helping to make Willy B’s birthday so special. Most importantly, thank you all for helping him to have a secure retirement in an enriching sanctuary home!
Willy B Chimpanzee is a heck of a guy with a unique way of doing things. Although he often chooses to remain reserved and observant, he’s been letting loose quite often during the past few weeks. This shift in behavior has led to many bouts of stomping playfully around the building, wrestling with his chimp friends, and busting out some mind-blowing slinky moves. In short, Willy has revealed the goofy side of his multifaceted personality.
Today, we celebrated Willy’s first birthday as a resident of CSNW with the support of two heartwarming Sponsor-a-Day donations (which you can read about here and here). To commemorate the special occasion, Willy and his companions were treated to a crazy lineup of enrichment activities that I started to refer to as “Willyfest“. Of course, we made sure that the lineup included all of Willy’s favorite things (including giant slinkies, plush toys, and avocados). As a firsthand witness, I can proudly say that this year’s party absolutely slapped, and I already have the date marked on my calendar for 2021.
I’m also preparing a video so that you can all see highlights from this year’s festival, but it might take a day or two to refine. To hold you over, I’ll reveal the day’s featured menu item: Chimp Taco Salad.
This dish was designed, crafted, plated and served by Chad, one of the sanctuary’s creative and dedicated caregivers. Each serving featured a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce topped with a dollop of fresh guacamole. The guac, which was mashed on-site, consisted of buttery California avocados, diced Roma tomatoes, chopped red onion, and a squirt of zesty citrus juice from fresh limes. All of these ingredients were plated on a paper serving tray which Chad delicately topped with Zupreme biscuit crumbles (also known as around here simply as “chow”). Each chimp was treated to several of these “boats” along with a side of russet potato wedges. For dessert, the chimpanzees all received a complementary Night Bag filled with dried fruit, white popcorn, sunflower seeds and peanuts. Willy, of course, was also rewarded with a whole apple for not stealing anyone else’s food.
You’ll be able to see how the chimps reacted once I finish the video and share it on our social media channels (i.e. the blog, Facebook and YouTube). Until then, thank you all for helping to make Willy’s birthday a special one!
Honey B is anything but shy.
This bright, enigmatic chimp seemed to arrive at the sanctuary with one setting: investigate.
For example, Honey B constantly inspects human personnel for new cuts, scrapes, bruises, hangnails, freckles, accessories and even tattoos, which she then insists on eagerly grooming. Her first reaction to new volunteers is to spit water on them, measure their reaction, and then stare at them as if they were a peculiar piece of art in a museum. This not-so-warm welcome seems to make people feel a bit uneasy at first. To quote volunteer Becca’s reaction after meeting Honey B last fall, “I feel like she knows my SAT scores.”
Honey B tends to be the first chimpanzee to enter new areas after they have been cleaned and provisioned with enrichment materials, and she was the first to figure out the drinking fountains in her new home. Even when meeting new chimps, her strategy seemed built around a framework of testing boundaries and pushing buttons. Curiosity may proverbially kill felines but it somehow hasn’t gotten Honey B yet.
Her apparent rule that everything needs to be investigated in depth also applies to cameras and phones. While other chimps may be more curious about the reflective camera lens (like Willy B) or nervous about having their photo taken (like Mave), Honey B seems intent on somehow obtaining the camera. Her immediate reaction is to charge forward, get as close to the camera as possible, and ask the caregivers to let her groom the camera body. On rare occasions, she has asked me to drop a camera or phone in the food chute (which is not going to happen). We can only imagine what she would do with a camera, but it’s not impossible that she would actually attempt to take photographs with it. She’s learned how to clean by observing humans, so maybe the visual arts are next.
This tendency of hers to hover by the camera makes capturing portraits of her a challenge. Today, I got lucky. When I unlocked the wing of the building where Honey B and her two companions now reside, the three of them were sitting by the window in a beam of morning sunlight. I coincidentally had the camera by my side (armed with a groovy Canon lens that was generously donated by a supporter who saw it on our Wish List), making it a truly serendipitous moment. Honey B held still for a quick photo shoot as Mave lazily picked through her hair and groomed her shoulder. Perhaps I have Mave to thank for that whole moment.
Anyway, you’re all being treated to a rare portrait of Honey B as the cornerstone of today’s blog post. Enjoy.