Posts Tagged ‘rescue’

Alone Time

Friday, January 19th, 2018

Foxie is one of the more gregarious chimps I’ve known, but even the most social primate needs to be alone once and a while.

At CSNW, each day begins with a group activity – breakfast. When that’s done, the chimps typically head out onto the hill together. Jamie does her first patrol, Missy runs in all directions, Burrito obsessively follows whichever of the girls is cycling at the time…and eventually they head back inside together for some rest. But there’s often one straggler.

This morning, Foxie remained outside, as she often does, atop one of the towers. This is her favorite place to be alone.

I can see why this has become her spot. It’s a great place for her to bring her dolls for private games of make-believe.

Before we purchased the property next door, it was also the perfect location to covertly surveil our neighbor.

It’s a peaceful, private place. Just sit back and watch the river flow by and the cows graze.

Soon enough there will be excitement. There will be stress. There will be politics.

But for a little while, there’s just Foxie.

foxie and the landscape

Good morning, Neggie!

Friday, January 12th, 2018

Mornings are generally a rambunctious time at the sanctuary, but if we’re lucky, Burrito will hold off on his dominance displays long enough for us to say a quiet “good morning” to the group. We use the chimps’ language as much as possible, which means we greet them with breathy panting, soft grunts, and head bobbing. Negra is usually the last to get out of bed, and her sleepy greetings are a perfect way to start the day.

Jamie’s nest

Friday, January 5th, 2018

It’s been very quiet here today. Freezing rain has left everything coated in a thick layer of ice, making it nearly impossible to travel to or from the sanctuary.

Jamie didn’t seem too upset by the fact that her two-acre habitat had frozen over. In fact, she seemed to relish the opportunity to stay inside, make a cozy nest with blankets, giant stuffed animals, and her favorite boots, and leisurely flip through a new book about primates.

The Shoes off My Feet

Friday, December 22nd, 2017

As the saying goes, if you really care for someone you’d give them the shirt off your back. For Jamie, it’s going to have to be the shoes off your feet.

The Bonobo Book

Friday, December 15th, 2017

Jamie loves to look at books and magazines. Today, she was enthralled by a book about the Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She made multiple nests throughout the day and each time she brought the book with her, along with a book about boots and a number of actual boots.

Dizzy with Excitement

Friday, December 8th, 2017

At Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest, we encourage all of our staff and volunteers to communicate with the chimps in their language as much as possible. This means that we adopt a submissive posture when the chimps are displaying, we cover our top teeth when we smile during play, and we pant hoot with the group when they are excited.

This last one can be difficult, though. Pant hoots, like many other chimp vocalizations such as breathy-pant greetings and laughter, require rapid breathing – as much as 10 to 15 times the normal rate. One minute you’re singing along with the chimps, the next minute you’re passed out on the floor. How do the chimps get away with it?

One interesting theory involves laryngeal air sacs, which are inflatable extensions of the vocal tract in the neck and upper chest of chimps and many other primates. I worked with chimps for a while without even realizing that they had air sacs, and they only came to my attention because they are prone to infection (airsacculitis) and occasionally need to be treated. They’re not noticeable in chimpanzees under normal circumstances like they are in some other species. Interestingly, humans and a few other primates lack them altogether.

So what function do they serve? No one really knows for sure. The most obvious answer would be that they make vocalizations more efficient, possibly by increasing amplitude, matching impedance with the surrounding air, or lowering their frequency so that they travel farther through forest environments. But this doesn’t seem to be true in all species. Alternatively, they may allow smaller primates to sound larger than they are for the purposes of mating or territoriality – much like the way that male dogs attempt to urinate as high on a tree as possible. Whereas dogs tag trees to say WATCH OUT – VERY BIG DOG WAS HERE, perhaps monkeys are saying BEWARE – YOU ARE ENTERING GIANT MONKEY TERRITORY. But again, the evidence is mixed.

Air sacs are thought to be associated with a few species-specific calls such as the siamang’s “ascending boom” and what is perhaps the best named primate vocalization of all time, the gorilla’s “sex whinny”.

My favorite theory – which does not make it true, by any means – is that these air sacs allow certain primates to produce rapid inhale-exhale calls without hyperventilating. The sacs expand during exhalation, which means that they fill with CO2-rich air, and then they collapse during inhalation. What do humans often do when we are hyperventilating? We breath into paper bags to rebreathe our own air and restore CO2 levels (don’t try this at home on my advice, as it appears some more serious conditions can be mistaken for hyperventilation and made worse by rebreathing). Chimps, it turns out, have the equivalent of paper bags built right in.

Air sacs may very well serve different functions in different species, or even multiple functions within the same species. The above theories aren’t mutually exclusive. But it’s clear that humans get along just fine without them – well, humans that don’t work with chimps, that is. Our ancestors most likely possessed them, so why would they disappear? It’s possible that when humans evolved ways to modulate our breathing and produce multiple phrases with each exhale we lost the need for them, and because they are prone to infection, they eventually disappeared.

Which means that we humans have to temper our excitement around the chimp house or else we’ll end up passing out before the party has even started.

The Other 5% of the Time

Saturday, December 2nd, 2017

Are the chimpanzees at the sanctuary peaceful and quiet all of the time? This video starts to answer that question.



Safe and sound

Friday, December 1st, 2017

We give out over 70 fleece blankets each day so that the chimps can sleep in clean, comfortable nests. Night nests are usually built up off the ground on the catwalks in the playroom or on benches in the smaller front rooms. Sometimes the chimps sleep near each other, other times they seek privacy.

Annie often gathers blankets from the playroom and front rooms to build her nest on a front room bench. Its takes a lot of work to get the nest just right.

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: