Little Tammy Learns to Play

When Tammy, a female chimpanzee, was 2 years old she desperately wanted to learn to spit water at unsuspecting keepers like she had seen her siblings doing. She couldn’t figure out how to project the water from her mouth. It would just dribble out when she opened her mouth. So instead, Tammy figured out how this method would still get keepers wet. She fills her mouth with water, climbs into the overhead tunnel and waits for someone to walk underneath her. Then splash! she opens her mouth.

Tammy, like human 2 year olds, has a favorite doll she totes around everywhere. Hers happens to be a big plush pig. She loves to jump on it, play with it and drag it around. And, after wearing herself out playing with it, she’ll use it to sleep on.

Family Feud: Hugo and Jimiyu

Jimiyu and Hugo, two male chimpanzees, have been at odds with each other their entire lives. Jimiyu is one year older than Hugo, but much smaller. Hugo was hand-reared and therefore didn’t develop chimp skills and acts babyish or immature. Jimiyu on the other hand is a secure, delightful, fully functional chimp. Because of their personality differences, the two brothers often quarrel. As children, Jimiyu would slap and kick Hugo. This is a way chimps play with each other so Jimiyu wasn’t being mean. Hugo, however, did not perceive the game as enjoyable and would whimper when Jimiyu tried roughhousing with him. As they grew up Hugo became the largest chimp in the family and easily took the alpha role. Hugo never really hurt any of the chimps, but his new position in the family helped suppress Jimiyu’s attempts to beat up on Hugo. In fact, Hugo now terrorizes Jimiyu if he can catch him in a small space. He will scream, slap and corner Jimiyu. The tension between these two is often evident, but they are brothers so despite their fights they still have friendliness for one another. Some days they will lay next to each other and groom.

The Day Bakhari Fell From A Tree

It is not uncommon for chimpanzees in the wild to fall from the treetops. However, it is still an unpleasant and unexpected occurrence at the Saint Louis Zoo. One day while the keepers were in the kitchen they heard terrible, urgent screaming. When the keepers ran to the exhibit they saw all of the chimpanzees running around in an uproar. In the center of the running, was 4 year old Bakhari, a female chimpanzee. Her mouth was bloody and she was dragging her legs behind her. The other chimps were clearly distraught and didn’t know what to do. Most of them went up to her and touched her, but only briefly as they were obviously frightened and confused. The keepers quickly moved the chimp family out of the exhibit so they could care for Bakhari. Once Bakhari was out of the exhibit, the other chimps tried to hug her and hold her, but she kept screaming and reaching toward Hugo, the alpha male. Since Bakhari was a baby, she and Hugo have been especially close. Hugo hugged her until she calmed down. Almost immediately the other chimps calmed down too. The keepers closely examined Bakhari. She had regained some motion in her legs and the blood appeared to be a superficial cut to her lip. A visitor reported to the keepers that Bakhari had fallen from one of the trees in the exhibit. She was stunned by the fall and had the wind knocked out of her, but an examination proved she wouldn’t suffer from any major injuries. And, in fact, she was back to her old self in a few days.

Eat Your Vegetables

There’s not a kid out there who is not picky about eating vegetables. Parent try anything to get their kids to eat them. Smother them in cheese or serve them with dip. Sometimes even making up a game. Who can forget the broccoli trees and the mountains of mashed potatoes surrounding gravy lakes? And, of course, there’s the airplane spoon!

Our keepers faced such a dilemma when offering vegetables to Tammy, a female chimpanzee barely 2 years old. At that age a young chimp is typically still relying in part on its mother’s milk. But, they’re beginning to eat quite a bit of solid food too. Infant chimps learn just about everything about food from their mothers and the others around them. They learn not only which foods to eat, but also how to eat them. They soon discover that fruits like bananas and oranges are better eaten when peeled and that stems are better discarded.

Unfortunately for Tammy, she was orphaned as an infant. Tammy had to rely on human surrogates to take her mother’s place. Eventually, she would come to the Saint Louis Zoo to become a member of our chimpanzee group. Tammy’s new family would continue her education, teaching her everything she needed to know about being a chimp.

But, like with any child, some things just seem to take forever to learn. Chimps love their food. They revel in it! They make sounds of sheer joy and excitement as mealtime approaches. Tammy is no different. But she is so terribly slow when she eats – not such a smart thing when you’re competing with other chimps for food.

While feeding her breakfast one morning, slowly -- piece by piece – our keepers thought they’d try to find a way to get her to eat her food a little quicker. Not surprisingly, it’s the vegetables she wants to eat last, and the most slowly. A keeper stuck a green bean through the caging and into her hand. She raised it to her mouth, sniffed it and promptly dropped it to the floor. I could see that this would be a challenge.

Chimps are fascinated by anything new and by anything we show them, especially if we make a big deal of it. Show them a small cut on your finger, and not only will they obsess over it and even show their concern, but you’d think they’d want to treat it as well.

A keeper took a green bean in his fingers and raised it towards Tammy’s face. With patience and skill (or so we’d have Tammy think), he slit the bean in half along its length, revealing the seeds inside. Tammy’s face lit up and her eyes opened wide. He plucked the seeds out and put them to her face. After rolling them around on her tongue and examining them on her lower lip, she actually ate the seeds! Then the rest of the bean! He had made eating vegetables interesting – and fun.

After feeding Tammy several green beans in the same fashion, he realized that this wasn’t making things any faster at all. But, at least Tammy was showing a new interest in vegetables. We had given her a new skill for preparing green beans!

Certainly she could now do it on her own, and save me some time. The keeper took the few remaining green beans from the bowl and handed them to Tammy through the caging, somehow expecting that she would show off her new skill. But, he had been unknowingly outwitted by a chimpanzee again! Tammy looked at the whole beans, looked at him, and then stuck them right back through the caging to have prepared. She had trained the keeper!