Another garter snake saga, in which everyone learns a very important lesson: Foxie will take care of it, but you would do well to give her a wide berth.
To follow up on Elizabeth’s post yesterday, here’s a good example of Burrito’s other side – the testosterone-filled Tasmanian Devil side that leaves a path of destruction and screaming girls in its wake. This is the side we usually see when we arrive to work in the morning.
As you’ll see in the video, Annie was the victim of one of Burrito’s drive-by displays this morning. Being a chimpanzee is stressful, but they have some pretty good ways of dealing with that stress. Like hugs, for example.
One thing you might notice in the video is that Annie also seeks reassurance from me and I don’t offer it to her. As hard as it may be to resist in these instances, we make a conscious decision to avoid inserting ourselves into their social conflicts. If Annie was startled by a loud noise, we would gladly offer her a touch with the back of a wrist to help comfort her. But when she’s involved in a social conflict, we risk upsetting the delicate balance in the group if we inject ourselves, even if it’s just to offer reassurance. At these times, the chimps aren’t just looking for emotional support – they may also be looking for political allies or even backup for an ensuing retaliatory fight. So we try to limit our involvement to a polite acknowledgement in the hope that they will work things out amongst each other. And they usually do.
Besides, no one can comfort a chimpanzee better than another chimpanzee.
Yesterday, during the party, Negra and Jody found themselves eating from the same pinata.
Negra, being dominant to Jody, decides that she’d rather not share. As Negra pulls the pinata away from Jody, Jody gets upset and begins to just slightly bare her teeth out of fear. Negra then displays a facial expression known as a full open grin. As you can see, her upper and lower lips are drawn all the way back, exposing all of her large and powerful teeth. This is a sign of fear or excitement, and is often seen when social conflict breaks out.
Jody responds with a full closed grin. Her lips are drawn back like Negra’s, but her jaw is closed. She is upset that Negra has pulled rank, so she goes to Burrito and Foxie for reassurance.
After being reassured by Burrito and receiving a kiss and a hug from Foxie, Jody returns to Negra, who offers her an extended arm in reconciliation. Jody accepts.
And the Queen gets the pinata.
As it should be.
This is all very similar to the conflict we showed a couple of weeks ago, but in this case all of the behavior was ritualized and no one was harmed in the process. As aggressive as they may be, chimpanzees are also very good at negotiating peaceful settlements to their disagreements. Part of this is due to their dominance hierarchies, which can help predetermine the outcome of smaller skirmishes without the need for fighting.
We mentioned before on this blog how difficult it can be to describe the dominance hierarchy at CSNW. One reason is that these seven chimpanzees had little social experience before coming to the sanctuary. They had to start figuring out how to be chimpanzees when they were already well into adulthood, with no role models to emulate and no culture to absorb – just seven misfits trying to figure things out as they went along.
But another explanation is that the majority of the Cle Elum Seven are female, and in the wild, the hierarchy amongst females is often less linear than it is for males. In some communities, the females seem to be ranked in broad groups rather than by the individual.
I would say that is true for the Cle Elum Seven. It’s clear that Jamie, Negra, Jody, and Burrito are dominant individuals, but among them, it’s not always clear how they are ranked. The hierarchy is complex, fluid, and context-dependent. For example, Burrito’s dominance displays are respected and tolerated by all of the females, but Jamie can steal his lunch with impunity. Jamie gets upset when Jody gets a hold of prized food, but she is not always successful in her attempts to steal it away. Negra always submits to Burrito, but she steals from Jamie and Jody. Honestly, it can get confusing.
Nevertheless, we refer to Jamie as the alpha of the group because she regularly fights for dominance and usually gets her way. Negra, on the other hand, seems to earn respect without trying.
All she wants is her night bags, a quiet nap, and occasionally, someone else’s pinata.
Last week, a squabble broke out during dinner. Since we’re always talking about how we never capture conflicts on video, I decided to sit quietly and record the whole thing on my phone.
I’m always amazed at how much is going on during a fight. Alliances are being forged, tested, and sometimes broken. Old grudges are being dug up and rehashed. Some subordinate chimps are engaged in proxy fights on behalf their superiors, others are playing mediator and trying not to harm the alliances they’ve worked so hard to build, and some, like Burrito, are doing all they can just to stay out of the way. And that’s just the fight – as soon as it’s over, it’s on to reconciliation phase.
It’s easy to miss all of these things amidst all the screaming, so what follows is my attempt at a play-by-play.
There’s always been a lot of tension between Jamie and Jody. Though Jamie is the alpha of the Cle Elum Seven, she’s never been secure in her leadership. She views everyone as a potential threat to her status as leader, and every action they take as a potential sign of disrespect. Jody, however, is strong willed and independent, and she refuses to submit to Jamie’s incessant demands for obedience.
Most of the mealtime conflicts here at CSNW follow the same script: Jody takes food that is rightfully hers. Jamie is upset that Jody took food. Jamie screams for ten minutes straight while following Jody around and demanding the food.
In their first few years at the sanctuary, Jody would break down and acquiesce. But over time she discovered that Jamie was more bark than bite, so she learned to hang onto the food in contention. And just the other day, when Jamie began her screaming routine over a piece of celery, Jody decided that she’d had enough, and she chased Jamie out onto Young’s Hill. Jamie was forced to take refuge on a climbing structure while Jody returned to the greenhouse to enjoy her celery in peace.
This one interaction doesn’t mean that Jody has taken over the alpha position in the group. She just doesn’t seem to have the drive or the backing to follow through with it. But it’s a good example of why the two might not always enjoy each others company.
Unless, that is, there is trouble afoot.
This morning, Jody was spooked by something out on the hill.
The others sensed her alarm and began to gather around.
But Jody wasn’t looking for their help. She knew exactly who she needed on her side in a situation like this.
She walked down the hill to meet Jamie, who was just coming out to check on the commotion. As soon as they met, Jody offered Jamie a kiss and embraced her in a request for reassurance.
Together, they joined up with Foxie and Burrito to patrol the area.
Jody may not always consider Jamie her best friend, but when the going gets tough, who are you going to turn to? The guy who hides behind a tree?
Or the boss?
The last couple of days we’ve been experiencing some extra snow fall, which means the chimps get to snack on some fresh snow, which they love! Elizabeth and I filled up the chimps’ sandbox with snow and added some troll dolls for some CSNW flair.
Everyone was snacking on the snow, including of course Jamie. Since she is the boss, the other chimps wanted to make sure they were okay to snack on the snow, too. That’s completely natural chimpanzee behavior, and something that is essential to their society. Jamie was fine with the other chimps enjoying the snow, there was plenty to go around, and she wasn’t feeling particularly territorial of it.
When Jody asked for Jamie’s permission, she displayed perfect reassurance behaviors. She approached with a drooped lip, making it clear that she was not being at all aggressive or threatening. Then she reached out toward Jamie as if to say “is it okay if I join?” Jamie didn’t disapprove, so Jody’s next move was to give Jamie a quick kiss on the mouth. Jamie reciprocated and gave Jody permission by giving Jody a kiss back on her brow ridge. Jody then knew it was fine with Jamie that she join in, and immediately started snacking.
The sanctuary is located in a canyon formed by the Yakima River, and there is a period each morning when the sun has risen but it has not yet begun to shine directly onto Young’s Hill. In the summer, when temperatures regularly reach into the 90’s or higher, this is the most comfortable time for the chimps to be outside.
This morning, the gang went outside at around 7:45 – all except for Negra, of course. She needs her beauty rest, and she loves when the rowdier chimps leave her alone in the building to sleep in.
But everyone else took to the hill to play and explore. Foxie managed to keep her birthday party going an extra day, because she immediately found an orange that had gone undiscovered in yesterday’s forage.
Burrito followed the girls up the hill, going further than he normally does, all the while holding on to his yellow toy hammer.
Annie sat upon a climbing structure, where she could keep an eye on her friend Missy as she ran around the hill.
Jamie hung out with the other chimps for a while, but eventually she turned to me and gestured to signal that it was time for me to grab a cowboy boot and join her for a walk around the perimeter.
Missy gathered grass from around the bamboo, where it stays lush and green from irrigation.
Jody also gathered grass, which is one of her favorite pastimes, but something was obviously upsetting her.
She approached Missy for reassurance and Missy offered it to her, with all the coolness and confidence of Don Corleone.