Mind Readers

November 17th, 2017 by J.B.

Most people accept that chimpanzees are intelligent, but can they read minds? Not in a Carnac the Magnificent kind of way, but rather, do they know what other chimpanzees may or may not know? Can they take the perspective of another individual and alter their behavior accordingly? In other words, do they have what’s known as a Theory of Mind?

If you spend time around chimps you probably wouldn’t doubt for a second that they do. But one of the roles of science is to challenge our casual assumptions and force us to abandon complex explanations when simpler ones will do. For years, scientists tried to determine whether chimps were truly capable of acting on knowledge of other individuals’ mental states. They ran experiments in behavioral laboratories to try to tease out the answers. For example, would chimpanzees understand that a blindfolded researcher was incapable of telling them where food was hidden because she could not see it being hidden? The results were often inconclusive and it’s not hard to understand why. How often does someone sit blindfolded in a chair in front of you while someone else hides food around the building? What a strange thing to do. And since humans are always in cahoots anyway, who’s to say they didn’t know where the food would be before putting the blindfold on? If the chimpanzees could read minds, they’d probably wonder how we lost ours.

Field experiments offer an alternative to the more contrived situations found in the lab. Recently, a group of researchers studied how wild chimpanzees in Uganda change their alarm calls based on whether they think those around them are aware of the threat or not (read a summary here, or go here for the full article). Not surprisingly, chimps that heard a resting call from a hidden loudspeaker prior to discovering an artificial snake on a trail made a greater effort to alert those around them than when they heard alarm calls from the same speaker. They assumed that other chimps would not make resting calls if they were aware of the snake, and as a result they issued more alarm calls and stayed longer by the snake to point out the threat to those who needed to be informed.

In others words, the chimps’ responses to the sight of a snake were not simply reflexive, the way we might scream when startled. Rather, they were calculated in such a way as to ensure that critical information was given to those who needed it. From one mind to another.

I have to admit that I do wonder about the ethics of exposing wild chimpanzees to fake snakes and recorded calls, and a quick check-in with a trusted friend in the field confirmed that these experiments can have a negative impact if not done correctly. You certainly wouldn’t want to desensitize wild chimpanzees to snakes or fill them with the fear that snakes suddenly lurk around every corner.

I mention all this because a) it’s in the news, b) it’s interesting, even if you already assumed that chimps had this ability, but most importantly, c) it’s a great excuse to update our compilation of chimps reacting to snakes as CSNW:

Personal Quirks

November 16th, 2017 by Elizabeth

Burrito is a man of many charms.

Mirror Mirror!

November 15th, 2017 by Anna

Yesterday as we cleaned the playroom, we caught Jamie casually staring at herself in her new full length mirror. Possibly for quite some time…

Morning with Jo

November 14th, 2017 by Anna

The chimpanzees each have their own morning routines. Jody, the self imposed “manager” of the group, usually sticks pretty close to her schedule.

Blowing off steam

November 13th, 2017 by Katelyn

Mornings in the chimp house have been, well, shall we say a little intense the past few days. With what seems to be an early winter, changing routines and closer quarters at mealtimes, we usually experience a little adjustment period with the changing seasons. Breakfast is often pre-empted with the normal raucous and rowdy displays and cage rattling from Burrito (with some extra flare this time of year) which leads to the usual arguments and scuffles with the girls flying after him screaming at the tops of their lungs. Then with tensions high and breakfast being served in the warmer (but smaller) front rooms, it’s been every caregiver for themselves during breakfast service which has frequently involved dodging (if you’re lucky) flying feces from the boss lady. Most of this is normal chimpanzee behavior and all of it is understandable. We all have to blow off steam sometimes.

The chimps also sometimes choose to exert some sense of control over their changing routine or avoid tension in the group by choosing to stay in areas when we are attempting to shift them to others so we can clean. This is Missy’s favorite time to stay back on her own in the playroom and hoot and holler from the loft to her hearts content. Jody also loves to bring her snack into the front rooms when she sees me attempting to close the doors. I leave the area at which point she leaves the front rooms, but the second she sees me looking that way she runs back in. But as we’ve said many times, part of the importance and beauty of sanctuary is the chimpanzees having the choice to call the shots and make their own choices as much as possible. And we’re only too happy to follow their lead.

So after the breakfast kerfuffle, When this morning dawned warmer and somewhat sunny, we couldn’t have been more thrilled for the chimps to have the chance to spend much of the day outside zooming about, racing and running with each other and their caregivers, and just getting some space from one another, taking in the sights and getting some fresh air.

And while Negra still chose to stay inside in her cozy nest, she was entertained by no less than four caregivers dancing like maniacs as she nodded along with approval. It’s been a good day.

Burrito, Annie and Foxie (below):

Burrito and Annie:

Annie checking out the comings and goings of the sanctuary:

Missy:

Jody started to head back to the greenhouse with a favorite pine tree treat, but stopped short of going inside to check on all her friends. Jody spotted Foxie hanging out by herself and decided she needed to go collect her:

Jamie was thrilled to be out and about and has Kelsi running (literally) around the hill all the live long day:

Laying and Playing

November 12th, 2017 by Kelsi

Foxie and Burrito are two of our most playful chimps! So when we get the chance to watch them play, it is really quite fun. Foxie and Burrito began the morning with a post breakfast nap. After, a quick power nap they started a lazy game of wrestling which turned into a full game and then back to a lazy game. Below are some photos of the progression from napping to playing. Happy Sunday!

Foxie & Burrito napping:

Foxie & Burrito wrestling:

Stilling wrestling:

Back to laying and playing:

And a few extra photo for you all…

Annie’s silhouette:

Jamie holding one of her favorite boots:

New Enrichment!

November 11th, 2017 by Diana

We thought the chimpanzees should get something new and exciting since we raised more than expected on Giving Day for Apes…

 

 

The one, the only…

November 10th, 2017 by J.B.

The one, the only…Burrito.

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Joy

November 9th, 2017 by Elizabeth

As we head into winter and moods might be dipping, it seemed like time for a compilation of Foxie being the joyful being she is.

Don’t forget about the Database of Chimpanzee Enrichment!

November 8th, 2017 by Anna

Have you checked out our Database of Chimpanzee Enrichment? On this site we keep track of all the fun food puzzles and other items we give to the chimps. We are always looking for new enrichment ideas to try at the sanctuary and share with the chimpanzee caregiver community, so please feel free to share our site with anyone who might be able to benefit or contribute new ideas to our page!

Here’s Jamie using the treat rock food puzzle (filmed May of last year):