Archive for the ‘Chimpanzee Behavior’ Category


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 is relatively infrequent. 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. Thus 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.

All day forage

Monday, June 5th, 2017

The chimps have had an exciting day of forages! Breakfast in the sunlit greenhouse, lunch on the stunningly lush Young’s Hill, and dinner in the playroom.

In the wild chimpanzees spend the majority of their days traveling and looking for food. Here at CSNW we serve most of the chimps’ meals by hand to make sure that everyone gets their fair amount and it also gives us the opportunity to check out any wounds and see how everyone is doing. That said, we take every opportunity to present the chimps with choices and activities that encourage their natural behavior. Forages are a great way to get them active and engaged and I imagine they often appreciate the opportunity to do as they please and not wait around for the humans to serve them their portions.

A beautiful lunch forage with Foxie and Dora:

Missy in the treat rock:

Burrito in the hammock! (Annie to the right):

Annie standing, Burrito to the right:

Annie checking out the tire swing for sweet potatoes, Burrito foraging in the grass:

Sweet Annie:

Missy had to stop several times to keep putting food back in her mouth and picking up pieces she’d dropped. She was not going to leave one piece behind!

Whew! She made it back to the greenhouse with her corn stash!


Beautiful Jody:

After lunch Jamie asked me to put on her boots and sit with her near the open panels of the greenhouse that face Young’s Hill so she could groom the boots. She eventually made a nest and decided to lie down next to me and enjoy the cool breeze. So I decided I should also have a nest and got a blanket to lie on next to her, a safe distance from chimps and caging. Before I knew it Burrito came over and sprawled out in the corner next to us, and Annie and Foxie curled up on the top platform facing the hill and we all just enjoyed a few moments of rest together on a peaceful spring day. Some of us (chimps) got to rest longer than others (me), but it was lovely while it lasted. 🙂 Sanctuary for us all.

Keeping Busy

Friday, June 2nd, 2017

Jamie spent over twenty years in barren laboratory cages with nothing to do. These days, she is almost never idle…when she’s not playing with her chimpanzee friends or patrolling her two-acre enclosure, she invents projects for herself with the dozens of enrichment items set out for her each day.

A Royal Decree

Sunday, May 28th, 2017

When the Queen says it’s time to stop fighting, it’s time to stop fighting.

Missy making choices

Saturday, May 20th, 2017

Last night, Dr. Steve Ross from Lincoln Park Zoo spoke at nearby Central Washington University. He was invited by the Primate Awareness Network, which is a CWU student organization affiliated with the Primate Behavior and Ecology (PBE) program.

This is a really unique program, so I’m going to take a moment to give it some advertising. It’s the only program that I’m aware of in the country that offers an undergraduate degree in Primate Behavior. A master’s degree is also offered, and now there’s yet a third option for those who are seeking formal education in primate care – a certificate program that provides students with all skills and experiences listed by the International Primatological Society for Animal Technician, and some skills and experiences listed for Senior Animal Technician.

All of the staff who work at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest have been trained at some level at CWU. J.B. and I met there when we were enrolled in the graduate level program many, many years ago when there were still chimpanzees on campus (the last of the group of five chimpanzees who were part of the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute at CWU, Tatu and Loulis, now live with other chimpanzees at the Fauna Foundation, Canada’s only chimpanzee sanctuary).

Our sanctuary now works closely with the PBE program, offering intern credit for students who volunteer at the sanctuary. This gives students an opportunity to gain hands-on experience caring for primates while learning about their behavior. J.B. is an adjunct professor within the anthropology department and teaches a course on primate care.

Dr. Ross’s talk last night was about applied animal welfare, in other words, using behavioral research and data collection to gain information about primates that can be directly used to inform captive management decisions to improve individual welfare.

Dr. Ross stressed the importance of recognizing individual differences and letting the individuals tell you what they need and want based on their behavior.

And that brings me to my very informal observation of one of the individuals at CSNW today: Missy


As Jamie and Burrito were leading me on a walk around the 2-acre hill enclosure (me on the outside of the electric fence, of course), and Negra was taking a nap in the very warm greenhouse, Missy was out and about on her own mission to find and eat wild plants. She traversed across the hill, stopping occasionally to sample a bit of greenery.



It might be said that Missy has a bit more “wild and free” in her than some of the other chimpanzees. She is comfortable exploring on her own within the landscape of her little piece of nature, while some of the other chimpanzees seem to prefer to the company of others, or, like Negra, choose to venture out only when they are motivated to find a very particular plant during a very particular season.

Choice. This, above all else, is what increases primate welfare the most. When you think about it, much of what we share on the blog are the choices that the chimpanzees are freely making on a daily basis.





Walks in the rain

Monday, May 1st, 2017

There is a gorgeous book recently written by a mother and daughter in Hawaii called “Hānau ka Ua” in which they recorded over 200 hundred names for rain in the Hawaiian language. It is written that their kūpuna, or elders, were so attuned to the environment that they gave individual names to the variety of rains and winds on the islands. They knew each rain based on where and when it fell, the intensity and duration, the effect it had on people, the sound it made on the trees, and even the scent it carried. So in tune to their environment they considered it their kin.

In this part of the world, spring is ushered in on the winds. Not just any old breezes, but winds that come off the still snow-covered mountains and barrel down the valley like a freight train, that kick and buck like a wild horse, and throw sticks and stones for good measure. The days like that are sunny, but often leave all the primates taking cover. But on the days when the wind’s wild rumpus finally settles, like today, it can be cloudy and rainy. A gentle, soothing rain.

When not on Young’s Hill, the chimps chose to spend the entire day in the greenhouse, under the sound of rain on the roof. Annie nested there all day, as she often does when it rains. During a downpour at lunch we all just sat taking cover together, faces turned upward listening to the soothing rhythm.

Foxie keeping France Dora safe:

When Jamie insisted on multiple walks in the rain today, I marveled at the transition she’s made to being a Pacific Northwest chimp, virtually un-phased by the showers. Each walk for each kind of rain was different, but all were joyous and calm.

In a gentle, but steady light rain we didn’t dawdle, but she walked surprisingly slowly, the only sounds the raindrops on my Gortex jacket and our feet moving through the wet grass:


Later in the day when the rain let up and turned to only a few sprinkles was when she decided to kick up her heels and run:

On the final walk of the day most everyone decided to come out (though it was too wet for Negra today).



Foxie and Dora:


I’m so grateful that the chimps have the opportunity to be so connected to their home. To each rain and wind, snow and sunny day. To be kin with their environment and the wilderness in their hearts. Just as they were meant to be. Just as we were all meant to be.

The pant-hoot vs the pant-grunt, as demonstrated by Burrito and Jody

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017

Sometimes it takes a little bit of play-by-play commentary to understand chimpanzee behavior..

In this video you can see Burrito displaying and pant-hooting. A chimpanzee displays when they want to look tough and intimidating to others. You will notice Burrito’s hair is erect (making him look fluffy) and he stands bipedal to make himself appear larger. A pant-hoot is a low and breathy call that rises into a louder scream-like call, and it often accompanies a display.

This particular display happened shortly after a small fight between the chimpanzees had just ended. As a fight winds down, the chimps tend to separate and let off the last little bit of “steam” they built up during the fight.

After Burrito’s display, you will see Jody approaching him and doing a lot of submissive behavior. You can see she stays low in a crouch and bobs up and down when approaching him. You can also hear her try to placate his building display with deep rapid pant-grunts. I think J.B. mentioned a while ago, but but this kind of submissive behavior isn’t necessarily a sign that Jody deeply respects Burrito, but more that she wants to avoid getting smacked during his charging display.