Chimpanzees are very social animals who live in large groups in the wild. They recognize and respect a hierarchy and each group usually consists of a dominant male, several high-ranking females, some younger subordinate males and females and juveniles. The PRC is home to a troop of nine chimps and Donald is the reigning alpha male. He is great at keeping the peace and making sure everyone gets along.
Donald was rescued and arrived at the sanctuary in 1998, along with four other chimps, from Dahlonega, Georgia. He is estimated to be around 43 years old and spent over 20 years being kept as a “pet” in a dirty concrete bunker before his rescue. His large stature makes him the perfect candidate to be alpha, but even so, he’s not one to throw his weight around. Donald is a gentle leader who is always ready to step in and break up a quarrel when needed. Chimpanzees have dynamic social structures and conflicts are an integral part of their dominance hierarchy. Chimps quarrel to prove their dominance, to get attention, to challenge other troop-mates and for a variety of other reasons. Donald is great at delegating and letting others work out their own problems, but when an issue gets out of hand, he steps in quickly and serves up justice! When the chimpanzees have small disagreements within the troop, like someone steals a food item, the chimps will express their frustration and anger by chasing and yelling the perpetrator. This can be a very loud and boisterous event, depending on how many allies each chimp has on their side. Fortunately, the PRC troop resolves disagreements quickly and they always make up—which usually involves a hug or reassuring touch followed by a grooming session. Donald’s role in these disagreements is to make sure everyone follows the social rules and that the troop finds some resolution. Many times his presence will simply settle the group.
Donald (left) and Zulu (right) enjoying some donated enrichment treats.
Male chimpanzees in the wild put on elaborate displays of strength using things in their environment to make themselves look large and intimidating. The male chimps at the PRC are no different and since they have toys and other enrichment items to work with, they are able to make even louder displays than their counterparts in the wild. Donald usually leaves the displaying to the three younger males in the group, but every once in a while he will put on a big display to remind them why he’s the boss. He uses his massive size to his advantage, stomping loudly in the tunnels and banging his muscular arms on the ground and on the indoor walls and windows of their enclosures.
As Donald gets older, the younger males in the group have started to challenge his dominance in little ways. This means that they might perform their displays or interact with high-ranking females in view of Donald. No one is ready to completely challenge his power yet, but as each year passes it becomes increasingly clear that one day Donald will be replaced as the alpha male. Most likely, Donald will step aside and the females will decide who they will support as the next alpha male of the troop. Donald will most likely remain high-ranking due to the age differences in the troop, but he will enjoy the retired life of an alpha and no longer be expected to intervene in disagreements. He still has plenty of good years left in him while the younger boys struggle among themselves to see who will come out on top, but until that day comes Donald will remain a gentle, steadfast leader who is highly respected among the troop. Even if he does like to cuddle with a baby doll from time to time! 😉
If you would like to sponsor Donald’s care through our Primate Pals symbolic adoption program you can click here to adopt him today!