Saturday, 12 April 2014

The Final Working Hobby

An observational study of the Sanctuary's chimpanzees:

watching you, watching me.

  So work experience is almost over, and I'm sure for some it has been more work than experience. Not so for me. It seems fitting that the chimpanzee study has come at the end of the week, since they gave me such a raucous welcome on my first day. Today they were a lot gentler, and threw only water.
  Through the week, we have researched a list of wild chimpanzee behaviours, in the hope that we might observe some with the Sanctuary's population. Starting at 10.30, our first hour was spent in the company of Twmi, Fergus, Ronnie and Nakima. Between 12.00 and 13.00, we joined Tubman and Jason.
  On its own, the study has no scientific value, and is little more than a very interesting exercise. However, if we were to make the times we observe the two groups consistent, and extend the observations over a longer period, it could be a basis for a more accurate picture of the chimpanzees' behaviour at the Sanctuary.
  Some of the most interesting points to come out of the day, were:

  • Tubman and Jason's enclosure is a much calmer environment than that of the larger group. At first I thought they might be related, so comfortable did the seem in each other's company. But then I discovered that Twmi and Fergus were actually brothers, and considered how chaotic it can be be living with siblings. It might be that a larger group of chimpanzees is more likely to create a hierarchy in which others want to challenge.
  • Knuckle walking was by far the most common way to travel. Brachiation was observed a few times, and Jason offered a lazy, half-hearted version where he brachiated while rope walking.
  • The only two who participated in mutual grooming was Nakima and Ronnie, and for a while they nuzzled closely, cleaning the other with their mouths and hands. The others participated in the occasional self-groom, but this tended to be a half distracted scratch as they sat enjoying in the sunshine.
Nakima and Ronnie
  • It would be wrong to say the chimpanzees looked tired, but they were so relaxed - in what was a day of warm sunshine - that I wouldn't have been surprised had any fallen asleep. They moved around the enclosure with the carefree swagger of tourists, occasionally rolling onto their backs when overcome by their sense of stresslessness.
  • Not even the presence of food could disrupt the chilled out atmosphere. With plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables available, the chimps picked out their favourites in a selective, carefree manner. Fergus stocked up with carrots, placing the sticks between his fingers and toes, while Twmi popped a whole apple in his mouth, ensuring its safekeeping for later. Across the Sanctuary, Tubman collected seven tangerines, five of which he squeezed into his mouth. Not to be undone, Jason promptly copied his companion, fruit for fruit, then sat alongside as the two peeled their food with their teeth, incredibly content in each other's company.
  • Despite having an abundance of water available, Ronnie leaned forward and sipped from a small puddle, just like he would in the wild. 
  • Both Nakima and Jason demonstrated how they use their mouths to carry things, in this instance water bottles.
Jason and Nakima
  • Depending on the definition of tools, Tubman used the wood-shavings to clean or scratch his feet, while Jason used a small stick to scratch his face. 
  • While it was a calm day, there were a couple of periods of energetic chaos exerted from the larger group, most of which was initiated by Twmi, rattling his bottle along the fence. On one occasion, a startled Nakima placed her non-biting mouth on Twmi's shoulder, in an act to minimise conflict. Such behaviours would be a particularly interesting area for further study, especially as none of the chimps (except for one yawn) demonstrated any of the facial expressions typically communicated by wild chimpanzees.
Twmi (with Fergus looking on)
  • There was a lot of intraparty hooting going on between the chimps, but sometimes it was directed externally. Tubman was particularly distracted by the behaviour of the nearby hamadryas baboons, and didn't seem at all approving of some of their antics. The larger group also appeared to vocally communicate outside the enclosure, but this time at the Sanctuary visitors. There is no doubt that all the chimpanzees  enjoy the stimulation provided by the people who come to see them. It was interesting to see how Ronnie behaved differently with adults, to whom he mimed his usual hand over the head and down the arm, than to the children, with whom he played along a clapping game. He had even initiated the encounter with a little hoot. 
  • When the warmth of the day had reduced their activity to sitting around, it was interesting to see that the large group of chimpanzees lined up along the enclosure closest to the visitors, seemingly enjoying the interaction, even when it was in quiet company.
  As my time at the Sanctuary ends, I would like to thank everyone for the warmth of their welcome, and the opportunity I've had this week. I will be back again over the Easter holidays, this time as a visitor to these wonderful animals. Below you will find the results of the observational study, but do not take my word for it. Go along and pay them a visit yourselves. They're so worth the experience.

The Study Sheets

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