Posts Tagged ‘rescue’

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:

Building trust

Friday, October 27th, 2017

Providing medical care to chimpanzees is always a challenge, but it can be particularly difficult when they have been subject to decades of invasive medical research procedures against their will.

Years ago, we participated in a study that considered whether chimpanzees might exhibit abnormal behaviors that cluster into syndromes similar to posttraumatic stress disorder and depression in humans (you can read it here). Negra was featured in the paper as a case vignette:

A chimpanzee named Negra was a 36-year-old female at the time of the study. Taken from the wild in Africa as an infant, she has remained in captivity since that time. She was used in invasive research, including hepatitis experiments, and for breeding. Each of her infants was removed from her at an early age. During the period in which she was used in research, she was kept in isolation for several years. Approximately 1 year prior to the study, she was transferred to Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest in Washington state, where she currently lives with six other chimpanzees.

Negra met alternative criteria for depression and PTSD. According to reports, she had persistent depressed hunched posture, and she was socially withdrawn. Negra slept excessively during the daytime, and she lacked interest in play, food, other individuals, and grooming. She also demonstrated poor attention to tasks. She was described as slow and sluggish, and at times, she appeared anxious. In response to an unexpected touch, she would “threat bark,” scream, or run away. Compared with other chimpanzees, she demonstrated less variability in her facial expressions. Caretakers reported that her face was expressionless, “like a ghost,” for at least a month after she arrived at the sanctuary. She seldom, if ever, exhibited a play face. She was tested for a thyroid disorder and assessed for other medical causes of her clinical presentation, but all laboratory tests were within normal limits. Based on later reports provided by her caretakers, some of her symptoms have improved since she has been living in the sanctuary. She has become more interested in other chimpanzees, including grooming, and the variability in her facial expressions has increased.

Negra’s anxious response to being touched was not just a sad reminder of her earlier trauma; it was a serious impediment to her care at the sanctuary. Chimpanzees routinely receive wounds from fights, they develop dental problems, they get heart disease and diabetes and many other illnesses, and these things often require medical intervention.

There’s always a way to force medical care on an uncooperative chimpanzee, and sadly that is what’s required from time to time. But that can be stressful and even dangerous. They deserve a chance to participate willingly. Giving them that choice, however, requires a lot of time and energy on the part of their caregivers.

For years, CSNW caregivers (first Debbie and now Anna) have been working with Negra to habituate her to basic medical evaluations and treatments as part of our positive reinforcement training program. These efforts have paid off many times over, most recently when Negra received a wound to her back during a fight. Negra let Anna spray the injury with antiseptic solution and she allowed Dr. Erin to follow that up with laser therapy. In cases where antibiotics may be needed, Negra will even let her caregivers swab the wound to culture the infection and determine the best course of treatment.

For some chimpanzees, this kind of cooperation is no big deal. But chimpanzees are individuals – they have unique life experiences and they cope with those experiences in different ways. Negra has never given her trust lightly. It had to be earned through years of persistent efforts on the part of her caregivers.

It has certainly been worth it.

A small miracle

Friday, October 13th, 2017

Nearly ten years ago, we met these chimpanzees in the windowless basement of a laboratory where they had lived for decades, often alone. Each walk around Young’s Hill still feels like a small miracle.

Annie’s Fountain of Youth

Friday, October 6th, 2017

How does Annie stay looking so young?

The Waning Days of Summer

Friday, September 15th, 2017

We’ve reached the time of year where the days are still warm but the mornings are cold enough to remind you that summer’s days are numbered. When I arrived at the chimp house this morning I had trouble finding Negra. After calling her name a few times, she poked her head out of this mountain of blankets in the Greenhouse just long enough to greet me with a few soft grunts.

Before long, a breeze had cleared out the wildfire smoke that had settled overnight and things began to warm up. Jody and the gang took to the hill to enjoy some sunshine.

The chimps had a surprise treat at lunchtime. Volunteer Patti brought watermelon and Field Roast veggie dogs so that the chimps and their caregivers could have an End of Summer party.

Foxie was still on the hill with Jody when lunch was brought out. When she came back and saw what was on the tray, she couldn’t believe her eyes. Without context, the behaviors and body language  of fear and excitement can be difficult to distinguish in chimpanzees. Foxie grimaced, baring all of her teeth, and sought reassurance from the other chimps and her caregivers. When chimpanzees are overwhelmed with emotion, good or bad, they seek comfort in their friends.

It was also Patti’s birthday (Happy Birthday, Patti!). We wholeheartedly endorse this idea of bring food to us on your birthday, Patti, and hope that it is the beginning of a new trend wherein anyone who has a birthday brings us lunch.

Even party lunches have to end with bags of primate chow, lest we upset The Queen. By lunch, Negra had shed all of her blankets except for the bare minimum needed to maintain a sense of comfort and security.

Chimps nibble on certain foods, while other foods are almost always stuffed into their mouths as though they are trying to set a Guinness record. Primate chow makes excellent wadge material and the chimps often chew it into a thick paste and spit it back into their hand periodically to admire their handiwork. Missy has additional reasons for stuffing her face with chow – it’s much harder for Negra to steal pieces out of her mouth than it would be if they were still in the bag…

Normally the humans around here lament the end of summer but this year feels different. It’s been hot and dry and smokey for too long. We’re looking forward to some gray, rainy days and the opportunity to throw on an extra blanket or two.


A Breath of Fresh Air

Friday, September 8th, 2017

Last night a new weather pattern rolled in and we were all able to breathe a sigh of relief. The thick smoke that we have been living under for over a week has finally lifted, at least temporarily. The cooler temperatures and higher humidity should help the firefighters continue their containment efforts on the nearby Jolly Mountain Fire.

I can’t tell you how great it felt to be outside today.

While Foxie, Annie, and Burrito took to different levels of the Lookout after breakfast, Jody went out to collect some bamboo to snack on.

Negra set up camp in the greenhouse, where she could enjoy the breeze from underneath her protective shield of blankets. Each time we walked by, she would stick foot up to the caging as an invitation to play. While tickling her foot I could hear a brief and very faint laugh. That’s the best you can hope for from this old grump.

Annie seemed to relish the cooler air. She must have made five or six different nests in the greenhouse today but in the end she chose to forego the blankets and relax au naturel.

Missy pulled her barrel up to the playroom doors so that she could keep a watchful eye on the goings-on in the kitchen. Volunteer Patti brought a car full of donated fruits and veggies from Darwin’s Natural Pet Products and Charlie’s Produce, so our official tomato inspector had to evaluate the haul.

Foxie was in a devilish mood. Anytime I would walk into the playroom area, she would climb to the top of the caging and throw her Dora the Explorer doll down to me. When I would try to give it back to her, she would spit water at me, spin in circles, and then run away laughing. I don’t know why every game has to result in me getting wet.

Burrito has been a but of  jerk to his family members lately but today he was mostly back to his goofy and charming self.

Jamie greeted Patti with uncharacteristic excitement this afternoon. Before Patti could finish unloading all that produce, Jamie had roped her into an enthusiastic game of chase.

Later Jamie led Anna on multiple walks around the hill. It really felt good to be outside.



Friday, September 1st, 2017

Foxie and one of her many beloved trolls enjoy a break from the summer heat:



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.

Ask Jamie

Friday, August 11th, 2017

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