Visitors to the zoo will often spend a good portion of their day at “Chimpanzee Sanctuary” observing the group, perhaps marvelling at their incredible climbing skills or laughing at their slapstick comedy routines.
Those who are familiar with chimp behaviour will also be aware of their amazing capacity to solve problems. In the wild this will include a variety of ways to obtain food from tricky places. Because of this incredible intelligence, it can be very challenging at times to provide “enrichment” for our animals. In other words, provide elements of mental and physical complexity to their world. One way we have managed to do this is by providing some stimulating and rewarding food puzzles.
I love to observe the group at ANY time of the day, but what I really enjoy watching is the chimpanzees’ morning ritual of gathering sticks, twigs and leaves as they approach the “termite mound”. It is here that they will have a go at collecting some delicious puree offered to them each morning.
It may not be obvious as first, but as you walk past the Sanctuary, you may notice a curious rock-like structure on the right hand side, and if you look a little closer, you will also see a small brown door attached to it! This grey mound is in fact a hollow structure which enables the keepers to pop inside a big tray of mouth-watering puree!
Now we keepers like to be creative with our puree flavours…this may be influenced by watching too many realty cooking shows…but never-the-less, it is something we all secretly enjoy. Some popular flavours include apple –pear, tutti-frutti or banana -strawberry but at other times we may posh it up a little with turnip –vegemite delight, apple - rhubarb compote or sweet potato –honey medley. Our efforts do not go unnoticed as the chimps can sometimes be heard whimpering and hooting in delight. Some over-zealous individuals may at times come barrelling across the exhibit with a large piece of bark the size of a fence post…but may be disappointed to discover…that it does not fit!
The significance of this particular choice of “enrichment” is that it mirrors the natural behaviours observed in wild chimpanzees, who also select from a variety of sticks and twigs to use as tools. Some nifty uses include ant/termite dipping, wood-boring, honey fishing and nut emptying. Disturbed termites tend to bite onto the offending animal/object (in this case a stick), whereby the chimp can carefully lift it out and lap up all the crunchy bits! Ta da!
Primate Keeper Diane