Today is World Chimpanzee Day – a day to celebrate all chimpanzees, wild and captive. We want to spend today highlighting and honoring the nine chimpanzees who call the PRC home! Each chimp is a unique individual with their own likes, dislikes and interests, and we want to help our supporters get to know the PRC troop a little better.
Zulu is a former pet who came to the PRC from Georgia, along with Donald and Victoria as well as Hazel and Debbie, who have since passed away. Known here as the “Dahlonega 5.”
For more than a decade, these chimps had to make room for themselves by pushing newspaper bedding—along with years of their own waste—into piles that sometimes reached four feet high. They had no access to the outdoors and lost both hair and muscle tone in these miserable conditions. Their food was inadequate and unhealthy, consisting mostly of highly processed, sugary carbohydrates. They rarely received fresh produce or foods rich in protein, essential aspects of a chimpanzee’s diet.
Zulu nevertheless retained an affinity for humans; she often sticks her lips through the bars of her enclosure, like a kiss, as a friendly gesture towards her caregivers. Zulu played an integral role in the introductions between the Dahlonega chimps and the seven youngsters from LEMSIP, a research laboratory affiliated with New York University that closed in the mid-1990s. She immediately took on a motherly role, bringing newcomers Rodney and Cory into her nest, as a mother would with her own offspring. And, she continued to defend these juveniles during mild altercations—both would often run to her embrace at the first sign of stress among the group.
Zulu is still a matriarchal figure of sorts, often to her own detriment. Although the boys like to mildly pester all the females (just as young boys enjoy pestering their moms), they know they can get away with picking on Zulu without her reprimanding them too much. She still holds a high position in the social hierarchy, especially since she has maintained close relationships with the young males. When our dominant male, Donald, is ready to relinquish his alpha role, we’re certain that Zulu will be instrumental in helping the next troop leader assume control.
Zulu has flourished at the PRC, but she still bears physical scars from her earlier days. Malnourished as an infant, and possibly a victim of rickets, her physical stature is small, her four limbs short and bowed. This doesn’t slow her down! She sprints to the breakfast feast in the playroom each morning and races alongside Donald when someone needs disciplining.
Victoria also came to the PRC in 1998 with the Dahlonega group, where for decades they had been locked in a 10ftx10ft concrete bunker. As juveniles, Vicky and her companions moved freely about a rural property, treated practically as human children. Vicky was made to wear dresses, was taught to roller skate, and was forced to sit for portraits at a commercial photography studio (activities the PRC strongly opposes). Yet for all their similarity to humans, chimpanzees are wild animals—big, imposing, and intelligent wild animals. So, when Vicky and her cohorts became too big and too imposing, they were confined to live in this tiny windowless concrete box.
This life change was apparently hardest on Vicky. The least dominant of the five, she had received little food in her former home. And, because their diet had consisted primarily of highly processed junk food, she received inadequate nutrition and was severely malnourished. Upon her arrival at the PRC, she was a living skeleton, her coat sparse and gray rather than thick and black. What’s more, Vicky’s feet were severely deformed, making it difficult for her to climb around like most chimps.
Fortunately, it did not take long for Vicky to recover physically once she settled in here. She is now strong and healthy and has nearly doubled her weight. She has formed strong relationships with the other chimps and is protective and loyal to her closest friends, Donald and Zulu.
Most of the time, she likes to take it easy and is content to spend time with her companions. She enjoys building a soft bed to nap in for the day and loves receiving paper or burlap bags from her caregivers to make it even more comfortable.
Donald’s exact age is a mystery, since pet chimps were usually wild-caught in the 1960s and early ’70s, rather than bred in the United States. For all we know, he still has memories of his mother’s death and his subsequent kidnapping in an African forest, followed by the long and frightening trans-Atlantic shipment to a dealer in America.
Call it anthropomorphic, but those of us who know Donald use the term “gentleman” to describe him. For years, he was the only adult male (and by default the dominant male). Unlike some primate leaders, Donald has never been brutal; instead, he has exerted his authority by intervening during fights or by pairing with the most desirable females. Still, he becomes upset with unnecessary turmoil in his group and always accepts submissive gestures from his troop members to resolve the issues. He is always willing to work with his human caregivers and seems to understand that we truly have his troop’s best interests in mind. For example, he readily moves from one area of the enclosure to the next for cleaning and will chase the others out as well.
One of Donald’s favorite pastimes is to stay outside during the early evening and into the night. Perhaps he feels better able to protect his troop while outdoors, or maybe he just likes the view of the moon and stars. Whatever the reason, the expansive outdoor enclosure has really benefited Donald.
As Donald ages, the younger male chimpanzees have begun to challenge him—either by starting mild conflicts with the girls or by brazenly hooting and stomping. Ike has become an especially challenging character for Donald; as he gets bigger and stronger, the disputes between him and other group members may cause unrest. However, any group disagreements are relatively mild and only lasts for a few minutes before everyone makes up. It’s inevitable that Donald will eventually cede authority to one of the younger fellows, and we hope that his successor will also be a gentleman.
Jenny was born on May 19, 1995, at LEMSIP, a former biomedical research laboratory in New York. Separated at birth from her mother, she was raised in a nursery-like setting by human caregivers. This was particularly hard on young Jenny, who clung tightly to her chimpanzee friend, Pozna.
Jenny and Pozna were pretty much inseparable, and spent their days cavorting and napping in the PRC’s Play Room. As Jenny and Pozna grew up, they stopped clinging to each other and gained confidence around the older females. And as their positions in the troop solidified, they also developed relationships with Donald, the group’s dominant male. When Pozna passed away in 2016, Jenny took over the position of “best nest maker” in the troop, and she strengthened her bond with other members of the troop.
Jenny has always enjoyed playing pranks on humans (one of her favorites is to get a mouthful of water and wait for an unsuspecting caregiver to walk close by), so we work hard to give her opportunities for silliness and play, without putting ourselves in jeopardy. Playing “chase” alongside the outdoor enclosure is a longtime favorite game for Jenny and an easy way for volunteers to safely interact with her and be rewarded with a big, open-mouthed play face. She also loves shoes and often motions for caregivers to show her their shoes. Although the smallest of the PRC’s chimps, Jenny doesn’t back down when another troop member picks on her. She’ll chase down the offender and stand up for herself if Donald isn’t around to set things straight.
Cory was born on April 26, 1995, at the Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates (LEMSIP), a now-defunct New York University research facility. Like many chimpanzees bred for research, Cory was separated from his mother at birth and raised with other infants by human caregivers. This is extremely traumatic for a young chimpanzee, who in the wild would stay with his mother until about the age of 10.
Fortunately for Cory, he has been able to remain with those he was raised with and he also became very close with the adult chimpanzees he was introduced to at the PRC. Cory, in particular, seemed to immediately acclimate to the adults, becoming extremely close with the older gals, Hazel, Zulu and Victoria. That’s entirely in character, as Cory has always seemed to understand the politics of chimp life: he aligned himself early on with the higher-ranking individuals, making it easier for him to start trouble without consequences. But, when he gets a little too rambunctious, he screams and lies belly down to show his submission. This usually puts a quick end to the quarrel.
Cory is by all appearances one of the more intelligent in the group. We have often caught him waving his hand or an object over a sunny patch of concrete, seemingly observing the changing shadow. He enjoys learning new tasks and has been taught many hand and verbal signals. He seeks out humans for conditioning practice, during which a chimpanzee shows body parts upon request in exchange for a Tic Tac. This helps us to more closely observe them for injuries and general health. Cory obviously enjoys this interaction and the opportunity to use his brain.
Noelle was born on December 22, 1994, at a biomedical research laboratory in New York, where she was raised by human caregivers. The black “mask” around her eyes made her easily distinguishable from the other light-faced juveniles. And her naughty, sneaky, unpredictable nature made some refer to her as a “bandit.”
As Noelle has aged, her “mask” has faded and blended, but she remains the most notorious and certainly quirkiest of the group. At breakfast, she races in and collects armloads of produce, then rushes off to eat alone. She follows the other chimps around at mealtimes so she can pick up their leftovers. From her earliest days, Noelle displayed obvious intelligence. For example, PRC caregivers teach the chimps to help clean their night rooms: in exchange for a piece of bedding pushed out to the floor, a chimp receives a Tic Tac. Noelle quickly learned to tear one large piece of bedding into smaller pieces, then hand them over individually in hopes of earning multiple rewards. She’s always been eccentric, as well: she loves to watch movies and has a particular fondness for films featuring Will Smith (his movies are the only movies that she will sit and watch the entire film). And, like Jenny and Martina, Noelle loves shoes. (She even likes to flip through shoe catalogues!) When the caregivers offer her shoes to play with, she sometimes tries to fit them on her feet and walk around.
Martina was born on January 21, 1991, at the Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates (LEMSIP). When LEMSIP closed its operations in 1996, Martina was one of the few fortunate individuals who found sanctuary (most were sent to another biomedical research facility). She came to the PRC with six other LEMSIP chimps, all a few years younger, and was housed with them as something of a “big sister.” Martina automatically assumed dominance over the youngsters by taking food and their favored toys and make the biggest nest out of her companions’ blankets and coveted straw. The youngsters looked up to Martina and respected her authority.
Once the LEMSIP gang was integrated with the older Dahlonega Five chimps, Martina found her high position a bit uncertain. Donald, the dominant adult male in his group, was quite interested in this adolescent newcomer, but his older female companions were less enthusiastic about making her acquaintance. Victoria was especially uneasy that Martina was receiving all of Donald’s attention (he even let Martina make off with some of his food). Over time, Martina and Victoria have built their own special bond and have found ways to share Donald’s affection.
Martina is good-natured and eager to please her human caregivers. Asked to fetch a broken toy from inside the enclosure, for example, she races off and returns with the requested item. And, like Jenny and Noelle, she loves shoes. A visitor with a pair of new white tennis shoes is a real treat for Martina.
Ike was born on June 6, 1994, at LEMSIP, a former biomedical research laboratory in New York. Ike was taken from his mother at such an early age and raised by human caregivers, a very traumatic experience for young Ike. He bonded closely with the other infants, especially Noelle and Rodney. These three learned to comfort one another by huddling together in a “train”—stomach to back—when frightened or under stress, as they had no mother to turn to.
As they’ve matured together here, they no longer race into “train” formation if upset; instead, they comfort one another with such conventional means as outstretched arms, hugs, or mouthing behaviors.
As Ike has grown into a strong young adult, his confidence has also increased. He seems to know that as Donald (the dominant male) ages, his chances are good for claiming that top position. His standing is further bolstered by the younger females, many of whom support him. It is fascinating for us to watch as the young chimps reach adulthood and the social dynamics shift. We’re particularly anxious to see if Ike, the second-oldest male, does indeed claim the dominant position, or if Rodney or Cory challenge him.
Rodney was born on November 25, 1994, at the Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates (LEMSIP), a biomedical research laboratory in New York that has since been closed. Separated at birth from his mother, he was raised with other infant chimpanzees by human caretakers. Although such maternal deprivation is extremely difficult for a young primate, the big-eared, goofy-faced Rodney has always been a prankster and clown who’s good-natured with both humans and chimpanzees.
Growing up, Rodney had trouble discerning when his companions were not in the mood to play (he was always in the mood). He tried to entice them, throwing things their way or slapping the ground until they’d chase him. During his early days at the PRC, Rodney was doted over by Zulu, who treated him as her own child: she played with him, defended him in spats, and even brought him into her nest at night.
Rodney and Ike have always been close friends and often support each other when conflicts arise. Rodney seems to be a very happy chimp and lets out memorable grunts of glee when new toys or treats are handed out.
We depend on your support so that we can give lifetime care to these deserving chimps. We hope that you will help celebrate the amazing PRC chimps by donating to their care for World Chimpanzee Day! You can click here to donate through our secure website, or contribute to our Facebook fundraiser here.
Thank you for your support, and happy World Chimpanzee Day!