Chimp Wisdom: A lesson from our pragmatic primate kin



by Bonnie Hendrickson

Lunch was finished and it was time to go back outside for the afternoon.  I asked Tatu WHAT-TO-DO? and she replied OUT.  I then asked WHICH DOOR? THERE? (pointing to the door behind her) THERE? (pointing to a door two rooms down to her right).  Tatu quickly answered THERE and pointed to the hydraulic box that operated the door behind her.  So I opened that door and Tatu and Loulis left the area.

Awhile back the chimpanzees were coming in for dinner and a door that is not commonly used was closed.  It blocked the route to prime dinner seating.  Tatu quickly began to sign CAN’T CAN’T.  THERE.  She continued to sign this to me until I realized that she was pointing to the hydraulic box, the one responsible for the closed door. I quickly opened the door and thanked Tatu for her instruction.

There were many occasions when Dar would point to the hydraulic box responsible for the door that would lead him out.  He’d politely sit by the door, point to the hydraulic box and sign GOOD OUT THERE.

Now it doesn’t surprise me that they understand that the doors are operated from the boxes on the wall.  I know how smart they are.  I do find it pretty cool that they understand which box is responsible for which door.  What I find particularly amazing is their perspective on problem-solving.

Most of us humans would look at the door, push the door, point to the door or yell about the door.  Our first instinct is to point out the problem, but not Dar and Tatu.  They didn’t waste time on what was wrong.  They focused on the solution to the problem and spent valuable time communicating the answer.

So here’s a bit of Chimp Wisdom from which we all can learn:
Quit worrying over the problem. Go straight to the solution.

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3 Responses to Chimp Wisdom: A lesson from our pragmatic primate kin

  1. Bonnie – I’ve been wondering, do you (the humans) always interact with the Chimps through the plexi glass and the bars? I notice in the pictures you guys are always separated so I was curious.

    Love the posts :-).

    • CHCI Staff says:

      Hi Dana, yes, we never go in with the chimpanzees. There are two main reasons for this.
      One, they are incredibly strong and can hurt us even in play. We are very fragile so we make lousy playmates. If they can’t play like normal chimpanzees with us, then we certainly wouldn’t be a good match in an argument. And you know how it goes for any animal when humans are injured, no matter who’s at fault.
      Two, at CHCI we take the chimpanzees on their terms, which means we put them first. They are adult chimpanzees and need adult chimpanzee companionship. We do what we can to provide social interaction but humans are not a good substitute for a good ole chimp grooming session. Which is why we hope to offer sanctuary to new chimpanzees who need a safe and enriched home.

  2. Cool. Since I’ve been reading the blog and other information on the Center, I think the work you do is amazing.

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