When one attaches the word “alpha” to a male or female, often the first thought is that the individual must be strong, loud, or aggressive to achieve their rank. In chimpanzee groups, however, the alpha female does not gain status through aggression or violence, but through relationships and personality. Our alpha female, Martina, certainly fits this description. Her position in our troop has always been unique. She is older than the other female LEMSIP chimps but much younger than Zulu and Vicky. Martina’s close bond with Donald, the alpha male, and her ability to quietly boss around the younger chimps, made her the likely candidate for the role of alpha (You can read more of her story in her bio here).
What does a typical day look like for our alpha female?
Every morning, each chimp receives a whole piece of fruit to allow the caregivers to give them a good visual check and shift them out of their indoor playroom for cleaning. Martina’s day often begins with a patient wait for her piece of fruit. Alpha chimps generally have the best access to foods, and Martina knows that she can have whatever she wants. She can easily walk up to any chimp and take their food, so the caregivers ask her to wait until everyone has had their portion before she receives hers. Martina often complies by washing her hands at the water fountain Lixit and sitting until it is her turn. If she is patient and does not steal from the other chimps, she will sometimes be rewarded with an extra treat. She goes through this same process at lunchtime when the chimps each receive their own portion of lunch and nutritional chow biscuits.
At breakfast and dinner, many of the chimps will line up at the door to the playroom excitedly to be the first one to find their favorite foods in the forage. Martina, however, knows that she will get her favorites no matter what. So instead of rushing in, she will take her time and interact with the volunteers and interns. She often asks them to show her their shoes and will even clap at them for complying. Martina loves the opportunity to investigate any new faces visiting the sanctuary. During our annual member events, she can usually be found in the outdoor enclosure watching everyone walk around.
Martina’s interest in interacting with people extends to her caregivers as well. She loves to ask caregivers to run along the enclosure with her in a game of chase. Martina’s ability to take items from other chimps can be an advantage at times. If someone has a broken toy or something that the staff wants to be removed from the enclosure, Martina will go and get the items at a caregiver’s request, in return for a reward of course.
She keeps a close eye on her fellow chimps as well. She carefully watches any scuffles and will offer comfort or discipline if needed. During most days though, she can be found snuggled up next to Donald in the night room or, if it is sunny, in the outdoor enclosure. Martina really loves making a cozy nest from large stuffed animals or napping in a hammock. On warm evenings she is usually the last to make her way back inside.
Martina may not be the oldest female or the youngest, the biggest or the smallest, but she has such a unique personality that it is no wonder she is our alpha!