Archive for the ‘Chimpanzee Behavior’ Category


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.


Monday, July 24th, 2017

Today dawned sunny and hot from the start. But that didn’t stop Burrito from an exciting game of chase in the greenhouse to start the day off. Sometimes just the sound of our voice greeting the chimps “Good Morning” as we round the greenhouse is enough to get him to fly down the platform, play stomping his foot as he looks to us to chase him. He seems to particularly love when we stand at one end as he charges toward us, play kicks the caging and turns to run back the other way. As you can tell by all of his hair standing on end (pilo-erect) he was pretty excited about chase this morning as he charged toward me:

Ellie quickly moved to her morning shaded spot under the visitor platform as the chimps enjoyed breakfast service in the greenhouse (background):

First thing this morning, Kelsi and I trekked over to one of the ponds on the property to harvest some cattails for the chimps. We are lucky to have a wide variety of wild plants across the property that are safe for the chimps to consume that either we, or they themselves, can harvest. Cattails are a favorite and they love to eat the stalks and then savor them in wadge form throughout the day. We hid a few on Young’s Hill for some lucky foraging chimp to find at some point, but put the rest in the greenhouse. Being hot, the chimps were quick to grab up their share and find a comfortable and cool-ish spot to enjoy them. Here’s Jody:

Cattails are high on the list of favored browse for the boss lady, Jamie (and Annie enjoyed hers in the background):



Friday, July 21st, 2017

The Cle Elum Seven fight a lot. You probably don’t get that sense from reading this blog. It’s not a conscious decision of ours to downplay their aggressiveness, but I do worry sometimes that our inclination to share mostly cute, funny, and uplifting stories leads us to unintentionally misrepresent the nature of chimpanzees.


Don’t get me wrong – relative to all the other things they do, like eating, resting, playing, and so on, fighting occurs infrequently. Chimpanzees are by and large peaceful and cooperative. But for most groups, all that peace and cooperation is punctuated on a fairly regular basis by terrifying bouts of screaming, hitting, clawing, and biting.

This morning, Jamie got upset when she missed an opportunity to steal food at breakfast. Jamie has a hair trigger temper – if she thinks she wasn’t given the deference she deserves, she reacts by screaming bloody murder. Her screaming gets the whole group upset and before long Burrito begins to display. With Jamie screaming and Burrito flying around like a Tasmanian devil, it’s only a matter of time before contact is made and a fight begins – sometimes between two chimps that had nothing to do with the cause of the disorder in the first place.

Most fights end without injury. In fact, this fight at breakfast ended quickly without incident, and the chimps returned to their meal. But Jamie held a grudge. She was probably stewing inside all morning. In fact, I know she was, because she took it out on me.

Captive chimps love to redirect their aggression (one of the many unflattering traits we share). Why pick a fight with another chimp, who could bite you back, when you could direct your aggression toward a human? Caregivers are at times the chimps’ unwitting therapists, allowing them to release pent-up frustrations in a safe space. Hence the high-velocity feces that grazed my head as I let the chimps onto Young’s Hill this morning. That was just Jamie’s way of coping, as were the threat barks directed at us by Negra, Missy, and even Annie (!) throughout the morning.

But hurling feces wasn’t enough for Jamie. As we were cleaning the playroom, we saw her walk into the greenhouse with a full closed grin (a misleading term for a facial expression that includes baring both the top and bottom teeth in fear or aggression) to round up other chimps. When her backup arrived, she ran into the front rooms to confront Burrito. Burrito suddenly found himself trapped on a bench where he had been resting, surrounded by five of his family members all lunging and swinging at him. Burrito had to decide….should he fight back and risk escalating the situation while greatly outnumbered, or try to escape? He chose the latter and managed to get away with only a small bite to his foot. Jamie had made her point. He was chastened.

Fights are unsettling to the whole group because social instability is a threat to everyone. Following a fight, the chimps groom intensely to repair and restore relationships.

Burrito’s go-to grooming buddy is Foxie. Even when she is his antagonist in the fight, he still goes to her for comfort. This afternoon, they groomed on the greenhouse deck for at least 30 minutes.

Foxie & Burrito:

This kind of grooming has nothing to do with hygiene. It’s all about closeness and physical connection.


Eventually, Missy approached and Burrito turned to groom her as well.

But Foxie wasn’t done with Burrito, and she cajoled him into returning with a smile, a poke, some head nods, and a series of breathy pants.

Some scientists think that captive chimpanzees have a greater propensity to reconcile after fights than their wild counterparts do because of the nature of captivity – in captivity, you can’t run away from your problems. If someone beats you up, you are probably going to have to sit with them at lunch an hour later. So your best bet is to take out some of your frustration in whichever way floats your boat – charging through the playroom, smashing a toy into a million pieces, spitting on your caregivers, or initiating a CODE BROWN on an innocent and unsuspecting Co-Director – and with that out of the way, get to work making up with your family.



Moments with Jamie

Monday, July 17th, 2017

Jamie enjoyed a particularly relaxing moment this afternoon as she had Jake, one of the graduate students who is currently in training to be a volunteer caregiver, groom her back. She’s training him very well:

I’d like to share a story about Jamie from today that although we couldn’t get photos of, is too wonderful not to include you in. After lunch Jamie asked for her favorite pair of boots and began building a nest with them, which is pretty typical. When Kelsi and I walked down the human hallway of the chimp house awhile later we found her sound asleep and snuggled up with an empty boot box we’d given the chimps for enrichment. When Jamie saw us (because there’s no sneaking up on a chimpanzee), she immediately got excited and asked to go on a walk. Kelsi had put on another boot when suddenly Jamie grabbed the boot box and opened it up. Much to our surprise, she had placed her beloved pair of black boots inside just as if they were a new pair! Maybe you had to be there, but Kelsi and I looked at each other in amazement. It was incredibly endearing. Jamie promptly took the boots, ran upstairs to the loft area and tossed them over the top of the caging so that Kelsi could put them on for a walk and off they went. No matter how long we work with the chimps, they continue to amaze us every day.



We wish we were as cool as Missy

Monday, June 19th, 2017

Missy is beautiful, kind, joyful, goofy, serious, independent, self-assured, and the most loyal of friends you could hope for; she’ll back you up no questions asked. Well, if you’re a chimp friend that is. When the humans have been deemed to have “wronged” one of her family members she is often the first to let us know and she will hurl her tiny self onto the caging in front of you with shocking force while repeatedly kicking it and threat barking in your face with all her might.

One of my favorite memories of Missy is a time when I was trying to serve her something and Jamie decided she didn’t want that to happen and let me know by hitting the caging and threat barking at me. Given that Jamie is the dominant chimp in this society, it’s her right to do so. Even though Missy had her hand out in anticipation, she immediately backed Jamie up and joined in threat barking at me, seemingly incensed that I had tried to do something so egregious. The second Jamie walked away though, Missy immediately asked for the item again (and gestured to be quick about it!) until Jamie caught sight of us and the whole scene played out again. Missy is brilliant at chimpanzee politics.

On nights that Jamie chooses to have the door to Young’s Hill remain open she will often seemingly employ Missy to guard the door while she goes inside to retrieve something she wants. Missy doesn’t usually have any interest in the door remaining open or not and is typically ready for bed, but don’t think you are going to close that door with her standing guard in the boss’s absence.

Honestly, Missy’s a bit of a thug. And we couldn’t love her more.

In other news, one of our volunteers, Jake, discovered the hit of the summer to come! It’s hot today and we were lamenting not having any ice to run through the chimps’ snow cone machine. The chimps have access to water all day, but we occasionally offer ice snacks to help keep them cool and hydrated. So Jake brilliantly decided to experiment with running frozen grapes and a touch of strawberries through the machine and it was an immense hit with chimps and humans alike! They literally melt in your mouth. Go immediately and buy yourselves snow cone machines and grapes to freeze!


Morning grooming fest

Monday, June 12th, 2017

When I arrived to the chimp house this morning I found the whole family (with the exception of Missy who was still asleep in her nest) at the top of the sunny greenhouse together nesting and grooming. Grooming is extremely important in chimp society. While it does serve to care for wounds and keep each other clean, it’s a primary means of building relationships, maintaining bonds, and offering comfort.

The chimps had a doozy of an argument yesterday (as chimps’ often do) and while it was pretty much resolved by the end of the day, it was really nice to see everyone relaxing together this morning, amends made, grievances forgiven. The business of chimp families.

Annie and Negra (background):

Annie self-grooming:

Annie in her nest, Jamie grooming Jody:

Jamie is grooming Negra, but Burrito was actually trying to get Negra to play by ruffling her hair, play-stomping and laughing. Negra was not remotely interested in anything but being groomed.

After making the grooming rounds with her chimp family, Foxie swung down to say hi:

It’s been a peaceful day in the chimp house. And good thing, because the chimps need to rest up for the big celebration tomorrow! Not only is it their 9th anniversary since arriving to their sanctuary home (9 years?!!), but it’s Negra’s 44th honorary birthday! And it’s going to be a party fit for a Queen, naturally.