Spring has sprung and a young males thoughts turn towards - displaying!

Spring has sprung and a young males thoughts turn towards - displaying!

#Taronga Zoo Sydney

Posted on 25th October 2010 by Media Relations

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

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