“Baby” Chimps – Project Chimps

“Baby” Chimps – Project Chimps

By Jalil Goosby

The bond between mother and child is one that we share with a great number of creatures on earth. We share this bond with chimpanzees as well, which is no surprise, given how close we are genetically. While we each care for our young differently, the bond between mother and child still remains. In the wild, Chimpanzee mothers make playing with their baby chimps a priority, even in difficult conditions. Here at the sanctuary, there aren’t any baby chimpanzees. This is to avoid birthing more chimps into captivity. Despite this, some of the female chimpanzees at the sanctuary still find ways to exhibit motherly behavior.

The Chimpanzees in Harmony

The Harmony villa is a unique mix of male and female chimpanzees who had previously been living in same sex groups in the lab. In 2019 the integration process began, between the two groups. Remarkably, the males and females of Harmony hit it off and bonded quickly. When it comes to playtime, many of the chimps in the Harmony villa choose to play with plush toys. However they can be very particular about the kind of plush toy surprisingly. “We like to give Harmony a pile of plush toys to pick from when they get new toys,” says caregiver Jill Mullen, “More times than not, they choose the toys that most resemble primates. They always go straight for the plush baby chimps.”

Plush Babies?

The primate plush of choice for the harmony group is the Wild Republic hanging chimpanzee plush toy. The toy’s small size makes it easy for the chimps to take the toy with them wherever they go. Some females like 16-year-old Loretta especially enjoy carrying the plush toys around on their backs like a mother would do with their baby chimps in the wild. It isn’t exactly known why some of the females in harmony display these behaviors, as none of them have had experience mothering young. Perhaps, we could attribute this behavior to the chimpanzee’s natural instincts!

Babies for Boys Too!

In the Harmony group, it isn’t just the females who get to have fun with the plush toys. The males in the group enjoy them as well, namely, Kareem. At 180 pounds, the 36-year-old Kareem holds the title of biggest male at the sanctuary. He is the alpha male of the Harmony group where he leads with kindness and occasionally his great size. Kareem adores playing with lower ranking females in Harmony, including Loretta, and from time to time can even be seen playing with the plush animals too!

“Kareem really enjoys the smaller plushes! Once, we tried to give him a larger plush toy but he absolutely hated it,” says Jill, “He would alarm call at it and refused to let the thing out of his sight! It was about as big as he was, so we think the size of it just freaked him out a bit.” The larger plush was quickly removed from the enclosure and to this day Kareem still prefers to play the smaller primate plushies.

If you’d like to donate to help the many chimps at the sanctuary find their own ways to play, we invite you to visit our Amazon Wish List. Or visit the Ways to Give page on the Project Chimps website.

Jalil Goosby is a 2024 Communications Intern

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