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It has been a while since I have blogged re our Chimp community but the interesting politics continue on a day to day basis.

We keepers are always busy but I’m always on the lookout for things that will be of interest and over the past couple of weeks there have indeed been a few.

Male chimpanzee Chimbuka
Male chimpanzee Chimbuka

There has been a huge increase in dominance displays amongst the males, and the power politics is continually and rapidly shifting. One afternoon will see Lubutu very confident and dominant over Shabani and Chimbuka while the next morning will see Chimbuka full of bravado subjugating all in his path. Shabani as always makes the most of his opportunities. The grooming patterns also are constantly shifting literally from hour to hour. We will see Lubutu and Chimbuka grooming at say 2 pm and then at 3pm see Shabani and Lubutu grooming and then next day Shabani and Chimbuka. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. Perhaps the advent of Spring with longer and warmer days leads to males feeling better about themselves and this leads to displays. Remember, males display because they are feeling GOOD not BAD. One standout of these goings on has been nine year old Samaki. He is rapidly reaching that point of his life where his physical capabilities are catching up with his ego and this is no good thing for all the females in the community. On more than one occasion over the last couple of weeks, have I, while responding to the screams of females been confronted with the sight of a foreign adult male in our midst? No, this is just Samaki all hackled up and looking mightily impressive as he torments community members. My, they grow up so fast.

Recently we have again been reminded and impressed with the sophistication of Chimp politics. As I have constantly stated it is not enough to be the biggest baddest individual on the block, status within a Chimp community is built on a combination of domination and good will. Something that our current Alpha male has in spades with our females. Last week as the fluctuating ebb and flow of dominance went against him with Shabani and Chimbuka teaming up against him, it was the community’s females that came to his rescue with several dominant females leading a charge against  Lubutu’s adversaries.

The fact that members of this female posse included individuals that have suffered intimidation from Lubutu themselves just goes to show how Chimpanzees can grasp the bigger picture:

The two remaining incidents that I wish to share with you are indicative of why all who work with Chimps are so enamoured and amazed with their capacity to understand things.

In this past week my colleague, Richard, observed that one of our infants, two year old Sembe, had managed to get herself tangled in a rope loop on exhibit. Naturally she freaked, and her screams brought her mother Shiba quickly to her aid. Shiba managed to free Sembe from the loop and then took her down to one of the platforms and comforted her there. Once Sembe was reassured Shiba climbed back up the rope and bit the offending loop, there cutting it and alleviating the danger. Simply breathtaking empathy and awareness.

The current alpha male Lubutu.

My most recent experience was when I was giving one of the adult males, Shabani, a treat of sweetened tea squirted from a syringe. As always the younger juveniles are incredibly interested in this stuff and always try to interfere. Six year old Shikamoo managed to get his finger through the mesh and jerked the syringe causing the tea to be sprayed onto Shabani’s face rather than in his mouth. This is something keepers fear as we do not wish that taking liquids from a syringe becomes a negative experience as this method of delivery is very valuable for delivering medication. So what did Shabani do? He wiped the tea of his face and then turned and slapped Shikamoo on the back. My interpretation: he understood, Shikamoo was at fault, not me, not the syringe.

It is these moments that keep us primate keepers passionate about our animals day in day out.


Chimpanzee Keeper  

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