Upside-Down Picnic Day




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We decided that last Monday would be a good day for an upside-down picnic– a spread of food which could be found by looking up, rather than strewn about on the ground human-style. Since free-living chimpanzees must use their ingenuity to gather their daily meals, it is common for caregivers at CHCI to include an element of foraging in the chimpanzees’ daily enrichment. This encourages the chimpanzees to interact with their environment and to use their problem-solving skills to procure those hard-to-reach treats.



This was the goal of Upside-Down Picnic Day–to have a theme day revolve around the idea of searching, finding, and figuring out how to get at the dried fruits (a favorite snack) hidden inside a variety of containers and contraptions. To turn this puzzling picnic upside down, we hung the containers from curtains of torn sheets around the outdoor enclosure so that the chimpanzees would have to climb and reach for the prize, like they would if foraging for fruit in a forest environment.



Some of the containers consisted of:

    * A variety of plastic boxes, bottles, and other containers requiring different techniques to open (an alternative strategy would be to rip the container open)
    * Odd shapes of taped-together paper towel and toilet paper rolls which required shaking in a particular way for the fruit to come out (alternative strategy: rip it open)
    * Small paper rolls containing fruit tied to yarn. Pull the yarn to get the fruit. (alternative strategy…)
    * A narrow-mouthed bottle filled with large pieces of re-hydrated fruit, with a plastic hook included to “fish” it out.
    * Containers in containers



Setting up for the picnic was a team effort, taking five people about 45 minutes to stash and hang the containers, in addition to the chimpanzees’ regular daily enrichment items. However, the time spent was well worth it, as Tatu, Dar and Loulis seemed immediately interested in the picnic, each one picking a different direction and individually working on the foraging challenge of their chosen area. Dar quickly found a treasure trove of ants-on-a-stick (raisins on spaghetti) and a plastic container with dried fruit stashed in shredded paper. He took these over to a favorite spot on the upper ledge, and we saw a contented face as he enjoyed the spoils. Loulis, at first beginning to display towards we humans in the observation area, became suddenly distracted by a paper roll suction-cupped to the observation window and from then on seemed to forget what he was displaying about. The adventurous Tatu, however, probably got the largest share of treats–she seemed to barely stop moving as she walked, climbed and swung around most of the enclosure, cleaning out container after container as she went.



Although it seemed that the chimpanzees often chose the alternative strategy for opening the contraptions and containers (ripping apart even the hardest plastic!), we saw some containers being opened the “human” way, and saw Tatu successfully shaking fruit out of the paper towel rolls as well as pulling the yarn on the yarn rolls. At the end of the day, we were assured by those that cleaned the outdoor enclosure that not a container went unopened, meaning Dar, Tatu and Loulis were certainly very busy at the Upside-Down Picnic!

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