Chimpanzee Introductions: Where to Begin?
As our newest group of six chimpanzees has become very comfortable in their new home, we have begun the slow process of combining them with our original group of ten into one large community.
Chimpanzees are very social and live in large fission-fusion communities, meaning that they come together at certain times, but may not see every individual of their community every day. The regular interactions that occur between members of the group are a very important part of their lives and provide both mental and physical stimulation. The bonds that are formed from these interactions are crucial in developing alliances and play a large part in the make-up of the group hierarchy.
In the wild, young females that are leaving their birth community would first encounter males from the new group. Due to this, our first step in integrating the two groups has been introducing the young females from the new group to the males in the original group. Since alliances play such a large part in group dynamics, most of the introductions are done with a chimpanzee from one group meeting a chimpanzee from another though often a shy chimpanzees will be introduced with a friendly buddy from their own group.
In addition to natural history, keepers have been observing the interactions between the two groups for the past few months as the chimpanzees have been able to see and hear each other though not touch. These observations, along with knowledge of each chimpanzee’s personality, have helped keepers plan introductions so that they are a positive experience and so that bonds can start to form between different members of the two groups.
Positive interactions have occurred between several members of both groups but two specific chimpanzees have been instrumental in making members of both their own group as well as new friends feel comfortable with introductions.
In the original group or Mac’s group:
Abe, a calm and friendly older male, was an instant hit with the females of Toby’s group. He and Kira kissed on first meeting. He won Tanzee’s heart by letting her steal broccoli right from his hands. His laid back personality and willingness to do whatever the females choose, whether it be sitting still for hours so they can groom him or playing a rowdy game of chase, has made him a favorite.
In the new group or Toby’s group:
Kira, the youngest and a very playful female, has instantly greeted every new friend with a hug. She is always willing to play a friendly game of chase or tug of war with a blanket. Since the males in Mac’s group have always loved to play, her enthusiastic greeting and friendliness has been very well received.
The next steps will depend on what the chimps are telling us. There is no guarantee all individuals will get along with all other individuals, and that’s OK. We are fortunate enough to have a large and very flexible housing area and can manage multiple groups as necessary. Stay tuned, we will update you further as we progress!