This week has been a great reminder for all of us who work with Chimpanzees.
Male Chimpanzee politics are not cut and dry. They are fluid, constantly evolving and reacting to whatever situations and opportunities come along.
In the last couple of weeks there has been a series of significant challenges to Labutu’s alpha authority. These challenges to Labutu from one of the main challengers, Chimbuka, did result in some wounds suffered by both males.
Chimpanzees are incredibly stoic animals so the real problem for Lubutu was not the physical wounds, but the sudden loss of confidence that resulted from the challenges. Chimbuka of course realised this and kept pushing in order to press his apparent advantage.
However, as I have mentioned before, status and power amongst Chimpanzees relies on relationships and alliances. You are only as strong as your support network. We noticed that even though Lubutu was feeling a bit shell shocked he still enjoyed the support and friendship of the infants, youngsters and adult females on his side. This support coupled with the healing power of time has seen his confidence returned.
Last week he was visually showing his dominance in the mornings by banging on the chimps’ den door and letting out a racket of calls and screams. He has been leading the group when we move them around in their house during the day and overall he has been more vocal, which means he is more confident in advertising his presence in the community. At the same time Chimbuka is adopting a lower profile in his day to day activities.
The best example yet of Lubutu’s regained status was last Thursday evening when the group was brought into the den for the night. Kuma, one of our females, decided to take her own sweet time to come in for the night. When she finally came in with her son Furahi the first thing she did was seek out Lubutu and greet him. This is the human equivalent of quickly squaring things with the boss.
The things for us keepers to keep an eye on now are signs of a relationship building between Chimbuka and the other rising male Shabani who is playing both sides of the fence strategically.