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 violence 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 expanded outdoor enclosure has really benefited Donald.
As Donald ages, the younger male chimpanzees have begun to challenge him—either by starting fights 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. 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.