Chimpanzee Personalities

ChimpanzeeA study published in the American Journal of Primatology this month revealed new information about chimpanzee personality traits. The five defining personality dimensions in chimps are: reactivity, dominance, openness, extroversion and agreeableness.

Researchers collected behavioral data for two years on 99 chimpanzees at the Michale E. Keeling Center for Comparative Medicine and Research in Bastrop, Texas. They rated the apes on behavioral descriptors such as boldness, jealousy, friendliness and stinginess.

According to lead author Hani Freeman, postdoctoral fellow with the Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes at Lincoln Park Zoo. “From an academic standpoint, the findings can inform investigations into the evolution of personality. From a practical standpoint, caretakers of chimpanzees living in zoos or elsewhere can now tailor individualized care based on each animal’s personality thereby improving animal welfare.”

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Call to All Student Artists: Chimp Drawing Contest

Chimp drawing by finalist Vanessa Molisee, 5th grade

Drawing by 2009 finalist Vanessa Molisee, 5th grade

The Humane Society of the United States is hosting an art contest for all students K-12 with the theme: A Tribute to Chimpanzee Sanctuaries.  Entries must be received by December 17.  Two grand prize winners will each receive an iPod Touch, and 6 finalists will each receive $25. If the grand prize winner’s entry was coordinated by a teacher, the teacher will receive a $500 gift certificate for school supplies. For more information and official rules, see the HSUS website.

The contest calls attention to the plight of many chimpanzees currently undergoing experimentation in laboratories across the US.  The hope is to retire these chimpanzees to sanctuaries so they can live out the rest of their lives in peace.

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Smoking Chimpanzee Taken in by Wildlife Sanctuary

Omega - smoking chimpanzee

Omega, a 12-year-old chimpanzee who was living at a private zoo in Lebanon and entertaining visitors by smoking cigarettes, will go to a wildlife sanctuary in Sao Paolo, Brazil on Monday.  At the sanctuary, Omega will have the opportunity to live a more enriched life, interacting with other chimpanzees.

This will be a big contrast to the life he has known.  When Omega was young, he lived at a restaurant and was trained to smoke cigarettes and interact with customers.  At the zoo in Lebanon, zoo patrons would toss cigarette butts into his 430 square foot (40 square meter) cage, and Omega would pick them up to smoke.

Lebanon has no animal rights regulations.  Animals Lebanon, the group that rescued Omega from the zoo, has been advocating that Lebanon join the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and adopt laws that protect primates.

For more information, see:

Animals Lebanon
Associated Press

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Chimps Make a Movie

A group of 11 chimpanzees living in Edinburgh, Scotland have created a film using specially created cameras dubbed ChimpCams. The movie came about as part of research being done by primatologist Betsy Herrelko, who is studying for her PhD.

Herrelko introduced the video technology to the chimps over an 18 month period. She created two goals for the chimpanzees: to learn to select videos to watch using a touchscreen and to learn to record their own videos using the ChimpCam.

By observing what videos the chimpanzees watched, Herrelko was able to determine what chimpanzees prefer to see. The chimps were allowed to choose videos of their enclosure or video of the area where zoo staff prepares their food. While an in-depth analysis of their viewing habits has not been done, it appears that the chimps have no preference for either set of videos.

The chimps were much more interested in the ChimpCam and enjoyed watching the video screen as they filmed their lives in the enclosure.

The film, ChimpCam, will be shown on BBC 2 on Wednesday, January 27th.

For more, and for a clip of the film, visit the BBC.

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Chimps Use Tools to Cut Food

Chimps have been observed using stone and wooden cleavers to chop up food in the Nimba Mountains of Guinea, Africa. The chimps were seen breaking into Treculia fruits, which are hard shelled and volleyball-sized, and then cutting them into smaller portions.

Chimps have been observed using tools in the past to find food, including stones to crush nuts and twigs to fish termites out of holes. This is the first time that chimps have been seen using tools to process food after obtaining it.

Read more at the BBC.

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Great Animal Escapes

Sometimes animals outsmart us. This year, we witnessed several bold and cunning escapes.

Otter Escapes from Kansas Zoo
Kyra, a resident of the Hutchinson Zoo in Kansas, escaped from her zoo habitat on Valentine’s day and spent the week pond-hopping. Easily catching fish in other area ponds, she was unfazed by zookeeper attempts to lure her back with fish treats. But finally, she succumbed to the temptation of a hard-boiled egg.

Octopus Escapes New Zealand Aquarium

An octopus named Sid spent 5 days on the lam after escaping from his tank in a New Zealand aquarium. Sid managed to elude detection for those days by hiding in a drain that pumped fresh sea water into the aquarium.  He was caught after being spotted making a dash for an open door.

Orangutan Plans Great Escape from Adelaide Zoo

Jamming a stick into the wires of the electric fence surrounding her, Karta, a 27-year old orangutan, short-circuited the system. She then piled up debris near the concrete and glass wall and climbed out. However, after literally sitting on the fence for half an hour, she decided to go back in the enclosure after all.

Wily Prairie Dogs Escape New Exhibit at Maryland Zoo

Ten minutes after the opening of a new $500,000 prairie dog exhibit, the clever rodents found multiple escape routes.  Climbing and jumping over the walls, the prairie dogs had zoo workers in a frenzy chasing after them with nets.

Chimp Escape at the Chester Zoo

Thirty chimpanzees escaped from their enclosure at the Chester Zoo in England.  They made their way into a food preparation area and had the feast of their lives.

Harbor Seal Makes Trek into a Cape Cod Hatchery

Although this is less of an escape and more of a break-in, we had to include it. A young harbor seal was discovered in a state fish hatchery in the town of Sandwich in Cape Cod, where she had her pick of delicious trout to eat. What makes the story so interesting is that the seal would have had to waddle on land for 2 miles, including stretches on the boardwalk and through a tunnel under a busy highway, to make it into the hatchery.

Harbor Seal

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Study Shows Chimpanzees Have Excellent Spatial Memory


Primatologists Emmanuelle Normand, Christophe Boesch, and Simone Ban recently conducted a study focused on the spatial memory of chimpanzees. Using GPS, the team mapped the location of 12,500 individual trees within the home range of a group of chimps in the Tai National Park in Ivory Coast.  Then, after tracking which trees the chimps regularly fed from, the researchers found that chimps would specifically seek out certain fruit trees depending on when the fruit was in season.

According to Normand:

“Across all seasons, it seems that they have preferred tree species. Like when it is the coula nuts season, chimpanzees crack nuts using tools for hours during a day. Or when it is the Sacoglottis fruits season, then the chimpanzees stay hours digging their fruit wadge in the water to press a maximum of juice from those fruits.”

The team believes this preference for fruit and the need to remember where the fruit trees are and when they are in season drove the evolutionary development of the primate brain.  Another primate who also has a penchant for finding their favorite fruit within a vast forest range is the Bornean orangutan.

For more information about the chimp study, see: BBC Earth News.

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