Whether in the wild or in captivity, chimpanzees and monkeys spend a large portion of their time grooming one another. Grooming is not only a great way to keep everyone clean and comfortable, it is also a great way to build and maintain good relationships within a group. If you were to drop in to the PRC on any given day, you would likely find many of our residents either grooming or being groomed. This is because grooming is such an important part of maintaining a healthy social structure within the group.
We try to place all of our monkeys in houses with other monkeys who are the same or compatible species, and who seem to have harmonious personalities. We can always tell if a certain pairing is going to work by how quickly they get acquainted and start to groom one another. Grooming, for chimpanzees and monkeys, can be used as a means of conflict resolution, which helps to keep all of the bonds strong within the group.
Ciera and Bubbles, two of our long-tailed macaques, grooming.
Grooming can also be very relaxing and comforting. Our chimpanzees love to lie in the tunnels of their night room and groom each other during the day. It is one way they pass the time on these cold winter days, and at the same time strengthen their bonds (click here to see a video of Cory and Ike grooming). You might be surprised to know that even the higher-ranking individuals in the group will groom someone of lower ranking status. Although it is a little more common to see someone grooming Donald, since he is the alpha male, Donald will also participate in grooming other chimps in the group. In a study by Frans de Waal, it was found that chimpanzees remember and later share more food with chimpanzees who have groomed them in the past. This gives us a glimpse into the complexity of the act of grooming and also shows that grooming is more than just picking bugs off of one another.
Grooming is very important to our residents for both their social lives and their hygiene. It may seem tedious and boring on the surface, but knowing the importance and meaning behind primate grooming makes it easy to see why this is such a large and necessary part of their day.