Archive for the ‘Chimpanzee Behavior’ Category

A Hug and a High-Five

Saturday, November 18th, 2017

Jody had some enthusiastic greetings for her friends this morning…

Mind Readers

Friday, November 17th, 2017

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:

Walking with Jamie and Burrito

Saturday, October 21st, 2017

The day after the success of Giving Day for Apes was a beautiful fall day at the sanctuary. I joke that the chimpanzees are truly Pacific Northwest chimps because they seem to love cool overcast days the most.

Whenever I go up to the chimp house, I expect that I will go on a walk with Jamie – it’s what she likes to do. On this day, Burrito was even more eager to walk than Jamie! In fact, as the video reveals, the three of us did three rounds around the hill, with some meandering in between for those two.

I know that Burrito had no idea we were promoting his story and people were donating in his honor, but it was fitting that he was in such a great, enthusiastic, full-of-life, mood.

Thank you again for everyone who donated and helped exceed our goal!

Enjoy your walk with Burrito and Jamie!



Crisp days and spooky nights

Monday, October 16th, 2017

We’ve already seen some snow in the surrounding mountains and apparently have a long stretch of rain on the way, but for now the days have been dawning with beautiful blue skies and crisp, frosty mornings. Despite being able to see our breath in the morning air, the chimps have been loving being on Young’s Hill and waiting to warm up in the bright sun:

Peas-in-a-pod, Annie and Missy, climbed up together to enjoy the view in the cold autumn air:

Jody sat for ages in the morning sun then ventured up the hill for a snack to bring back to the top of the greenhouse where she could warm up:

And much to my surprise, when Jamie and I were returning from a walk around the hill, I spotted Negra of all people enjoying the sun and the view despite the cold temperatures:

I think Foxie was just as surprised to spot Negra out on such a brisk morning and decided she and her current favorite doll would check in on Negra:

Double-decker chimps:

In other news, Jamie has been doing something new this year! As a little background, if you’ve been a follower of the blog for very long you are probably aware that Jamie often enjoys late evening strolls with her caregivers. After dinner, after the other chimps have gone to bed, and past the time that her caregivers are supposed to go home for the day. We can’t blame her, evenings at the sanctuary are lovely, peaceful times and during summer a welcome relief from the heat of the day. We’ve adjusted our schedule so that we all rotate to cover PM on call in the evenings and two of us can be with her in the event that she (or anyone else) chooses to stay out past the end of our shift. This is one of many beauties of sanctuary; the chimps get to choose when they want to come in for the night. And it’s really a heartfelt joy and honor to be able to provide such a home for them.

Up until this year, we knew that even if Jamie wanted to stay out late, once it got dark she was ready to come inside. Well, that’s no longer the case! Back in August, and again last night, Jamie decided to brave walking around the hill with us in the pitch dark! The first time Jamie did this she was clearly nervous, but clearly wanted to go so Kelsi and I grabbed the spotlight and scanned the hill for her so she could see everything and know she was safe. It took her awhile to build up her courage, but once she made up her mind we were off! Kelsi held a light for us to see where we were going while I held the spotlight just ahead of Jamie to light her path. At every corner of the perimeter we’d stop and I’d light up the entire path ahead of her to remind her she was safe and then we’d venture on.

It’s phenomenal to me when I think how much courage this took for her to do. Not only is it entirely unnatural for a chimp to be on the ground outside in the dark (let alone one who spent three decades in a small cage in biomedical research), but she had to trust us enough to hold the light for her all the way around and not leave her. But once we made our way safely around she was thrilled, ready to go again! We walked around and around that night, carving a path with the light until 10:30!

So last night Jamie decided she was ready for another brave adventure. In the spirit of spooky, magical autumn nights and the month of Jamie-ween (we celebrate Jamie’s birthday on Halloween) here is Jamie in the pitch dark of the green house last night gesturing for Kelsi and I to put on the cowboy boots and get ready to run around the hill again. To say she was thrilled with the evening is an understatement. You can see the light from the chimp house through the doorway behind her where everyone else was cozy and asleep in their night nests. And what better way to celebrate Jamie’s birthday month and get into the spirit of Jamie-ween than a photo a little reminiscent of the “Blair Chimp Project”:

All Play Today

Sunday, September 24th, 2017

It may come off that Jamie is all work and no play (which can be true), but she knows how to take a load off when she needs to. And who better to help her relax than Foxie? The hard part is capturing the moments when they are happening! As you can see in the video a hand slyly comes up to suggest I leave. We never want to intrude in any chimp to chimp social time so I left shortly after. Jamie and Foxie proceeded to play for another 15 minutes before Missy suggested everyone enjoy some tomatoes from the garden!


Friday, August 18th, 2017

The chimps follow one simple rule: ALL SNAKES, NO MATTER HOW SMALL, POSE AN EXISTENTIAL THREAT AND MUST BE REMOVED BY ANY AND ALL MEANS AVAILABLE. Sometimes this means enlisting the help of their caregivers.

(In case you are wondering, the sanctuary is surrounded by 1,500 feet of rattlesnake barrier, but smaller, less harmful snakes live within the chimps’ two-acre enclosure and occasionally get into the indoor enclosures).

In this video, you can see and hear Annie alarm calling, while she and Burrito stay safely out of harm’s way. Jody, Foxie, and Jamie mustered the courage to force the snake out from its hiding spot and hand it over to the proper authorities, who in this case was Co-Director Diana.

What’s in a Kiss?

Thursday, August 17th, 2017

You may have seen the video we posted the other day of Foxie giving kisses to some of the other chimpanzees to reassure them after a brief conflict broke out during her birthday party.

If you’re a chimp, a kiss can say a few different things: “Everything’s okay. Please calm down.” Or “I’m feeling a little nervous.” Or “Isn’t this exciting?!”

Today we set out a lunch forage on Young’s Hill. Jody and Missy both have the same foraging strategy. They make one big sweep of the area, gather as much food as they can carry, and then head back into the greenhouse to sit down and enjoy it. Missy was on her way to the greenhouse, trying not to spill any of her spoils, when Jody met up with her, also heading to the greenhouse. They stopped briefly for a kiss and breathy pant, which in this case was part: “This is great! I can’t wait to eat this food!” and part: “I have food. You have food. Everything’s okay.”

Thus reassured, they completed the trek to the greenhouse where they ate in peace.

Ask Jamie

Friday, August 11th, 2017

Our resident expert shares her thoughts on keeping primates as pets:

Moments of comfort

Monday, August 7th, 2017

After experiencing over 30 years of deprivation, it never ceases to amaze me (or make my heart burst) to see the chimpanzees so fully embrace a life of comfort in their own unique ways. It physically hurts my heart to think of all they went without for so long and makes each moment of joy and comfort for them all the more meaningful.

The chimps recently received some new SUPER fluffy fleece blankets and they adore them. They look as though they are floating on clouds sitting in their nests, the blankets sometimes as high as their chests. We found two super voluptuous nests this morning while cleaning the playroom. Despite Jamie’s aversion to snakes, she really loves to incorporate the stuffed toy snakes into her nests:

Jamie (we assume) decided to use a chopstick to remove a washer from somewhere yet to be discovered. She is far too smart for our own good:

This beauty was spread out over the catwalk:

Beautiful Annie lounging:

Jody in particular loved the new blankets (naturally) and frequently rubbed her head and face against them:

Jody’s sweet feet in a cloud of fluff as she napped this morning:

Seeing the chimps surrounding themselves in comfort will never grow old.

To each their own

Monday, July 31st, 2017

If you’ve been following the blog for long you’re aware that we often write about providing enrichment for the chimpanzees as a way to help alleviate boredom and bring interest and fun to their days. A lot of the enrichment is provided by us humans in the form of things like toys, food puzzles, parties, and wild browse we collect. And a lot of the enrichment the chimps provide themselves such as harvesting wild greens from Young’s Hill. Staff and volunteers alike spent countless hours trying to think of new and exciting things and we keep enrichment calendars so that we’re inspired to think outside the box and mix things up. And inspiration often simply comes from the area we live in and the distinct four seasons we have.

Being summer, it’s fun to offer the chimps extra ways to stay hydrated and cool. So today we placed the ever-popular ice water buckets and a table of ice in the chimps’ playroom. We also made a very shallow pool in the chimps’ sandbox in the greenhouse and filled it with cups for them to help themselves to throughout the day. For all the effort we put into making things new and exciting, sometimes it’s the simplest things that get the chimps excited. There was so much hooting going on over ice!

Annie found a big ice chunk and quickly made her way to the greenhouse where she made a nest to enjoy it from (you can notice the ice chunk just outside her nest):

Enter Missy. Missy LOVES ice and being the more dominant of the two chimps, Annie decided not to eat the ice with Missy hanging around. Missy was very aware of this and kept taking passes looking at the ice, but she didn’t take it from Annie. So the ice melted away as the standoff continued. But this didn’t keep Annie from relaxing and enjoying her time. That leg!!

I never did see where the ice wound up, but either way Annie seemed utterly content.

And then there’s Jamie. Two summers ago we noticed for the first time that somehow (and much to our surprise) she and Missy had discovered wasp larvae to be an exceptional delicacy. This is pretty intriguing for a variety of reasons, but the bottom line is Jamie loves them and finds the risks in harvesting them worth the reward.

Yesterday she and Missy came running in from the hill with a small nest and Jamie was screaming and alarm calling all the way with all the other chimps in pursuit to see what was wrong with their friend. As far as we could tell, Jamie appeared to have been stung on the foot. She fell into her nest (still clutching her valuable wasp nest tightly), screaming, alarm calling and looking at her foot. But within mere seconds she was up and walking around the playroom continuing to alarm call in between taking bites of her treat. All the chimps continued to follow her being interested in 1) what the apparent threat was that Jamie kept alarm calling about and if she was okay and 2) what she was eating. But Jamie quickly settled down and with six chimps gathered around her food peering (staring intently because they were hoping she’d share) she enjoyed her treat. And she did not share. It was all pretty dramatic.

So today while cleaning the greenhouse I had to remove a couple starter wasp nests for the chimps’ and humans’ safety. Jamie was watching intently and so we decided to hide this apparent (wasp free) delicacy with the rest of the forage. She immediately scooped it up and began food grunting. Missy is the only person I’ve seen show an interest in wasp larvae and she quickly followed Jamie doing her best food peer and polite requests, but Jamie was unmoved by Missy’s plea. (Missy did get a smaller bite of one later though).

Mmmhhh…wasp larvae.