Ants in my pants…
This week has been interesting and frustrating. We had two welders come with estimates for the work that needs to be done on the chimp cages. After much negotiation we all finally agreed and the work will start next week. We are starting with the most vital safety improvements needed to Rosemary’s cage. It all takes so long here, but I am keen to get this done as soon as possible. We can then hopefully start her integration ASAP. This week I have also been spending more time working with the keepers. This has enabled me to understand the workload more and the keeper-chimp social dynamic. Due to their intellegence, establishing relationships with chimps can make working with them so much easier.
The zoo has beautiful forested grounds and gets lots of beautiful bird visitors. It’s nice to take a break sometimes, try and cut out the noise of the traffic, screaming bus operator speakers shouting ‘Accra, Accra, Accra…’,manic street preachers (literally) and pretend to be back in the forest again…
This week I really feel I am getting to know the chimps individual personalities more and decided that I will start sharing some of them with you..
.. So lets start with Jimmy…
Jimmy is the most popular chimpanzee at Kumasi Zoo. He is the alpha male of his small family group, consisting of him, Esther (an adult female) and their son Samson. Alpha male chimpanzees often take themselves very seriously, almost like a gang leader ruling through fear and violence. Not Jimmy… he and his son Samson play more than any of the other chimpanzees, and Jimmy is extremely gentle with him. He often tries to initiate play with me too, but as I am trying to play this ‘serious objective scientist’ role (lol!) I don’t play with him back. Chimpanzees have two favourite games, tickling and chase. Jimmy likes both.
Jimmy with his son Samson, they both act like children together.
Jimmy is also often seen affectionately grooming Esther and Samson. Grooming is used to reinforce social bonds in wild chimpanzee groups, although these guys must already be pretty close living in a small cage together.
Jimmy was confiscated from Accra airport in 2003. He then went to Accra Zoo. In 2008 Jimmy and Esther moved to Kumasi. Jimmy was partly hand-reared by humans which has made him very humanised. He seeks attention from people, but doesn’t get the right type.
Visitors chant ‘Jimmy roll, Jimmy roll, Jimmy roll’ (roll over) until he either does a summersault, a handstand, or a backflip. In return he sometimes gets given biscuits, soft drinks, water or bananas. This is a hugely stressful experience for not only him but all the chimpanzees. Imagine crowds coming to your bedroom windows and screaming at you to perform to get your lunch.
When he is given his reward he often shares it with his begging son Samson, something that is very rare amongst males in the wild. To say I have a soft spot for Jimmy would be a grave understatement. He is one of the kindest male chimpanzees I have met. That does not however mean he is a safe chimpanzee. A few years ago Jimmy escaped due to rusting in his enclosure making it weak. He injured a visitor badly. When male chimpanzees display, they see red and often injure people or fellow apes.. This is why I am starting to prioritize cage safety over enrichment
In other news… most of you will know I love all animals, from crocodiles, to snakes to spiders. I only have one exception, ANTS! Since I first worked with chimpanzees when I was 15 years old in Zambia and was attacked by an army of red ants, I have had no sympathy for the tiny Devils. As I mentioned last week the zoo is lucky enough to have a forested area in the middle of a city – with that come many different species of my tiny enemies. Anyone who has spent much time in the forests of Africa knows that the animals stay quiet, crawl all over you silently, And then all at once Attack! When you pick the critters off they have bitten so hard the head stays in your skin. Now you may think I am being dramatic about something smaller than a pea, yet if any of you were being viciously attacked by the mini Devils more than 100 times a day I think you might feel differently.
So hopefully by my next blog I will know when Rosemary is being moved to live with the other two females, Its something I am both super exited about and super anxious about. Wish her luck!