Often I tell people that when I was a young keeper the very last thing I wanted to do was to work with primates. Not because I did not like them but I felt they would be to hard to understand, too complex, too difficult. You do need something in order to be a successful primate keeper but what that is I don’t really know. All keepers have passion for their animals and empathy equally so. I believe it is when you stop asking for a concrete reason and just observe and learn as you go. I would like to share with you what I saw 2 days ago when I was making my morning check of all our Chimpanzees.
I had been told that the night before there had been a significant fight between two of our males, Lubutu and Chimbuka.
When I entered the house the two were sitting together and I could not see any significant wounds on either of them, so I continued my morning check on each individual in the group. On my return, the building tensions, most likely not completely resolved the previous night, boiled over between these two males but what a sight to behold.
Both males, screaming in fear and frustration, embracing and alternatively placing their heads in each other’s mouths. No clearer sign of confusion and indecision could be made between the two. Both males did not know whether to act on their tension or let it go and so in panic sought comfort and reassurance though these gestures from each other. Now this is pretty much Chimp politics 101. However the thing I would like to share with you are the actions of Sule, our youngest infant of two and a half years of age.
I have often talked about a chimp community as exactly that. It’s a community, with many different individuals, many different families, many different roles and many different agendas. In short, exactly like a human community. As in a human community the presence of infants goes way beyond a simple reproductive affair.
Chimpanzee infants, like human infants spread goodwill and reconciliation amongst their families and communities in the fact that they are so damn lovable. “Everybody loves kids”, it is the same for us as it is for Chimps.
So what did Sule do this fateful morning when tensions between two powerful adult males were at the point where the whole thing could go pear shaped? He got stuck right in. Protected by his white tuff and his likeable nature Sule repeatedly got between these two panicking males, mouthing and hugging them both. One can only conclude that he was doing his best to stop a potentially calamitous outcome and indeed it did work.
The panic and tension between Chimbuka and Lubutu faded and life for that morning continued at a peaceful pace.
For all of us it is a powerful reminder of the importance of the role of infants in our societies.
Senior Keeper, Allan