Tea and Biscuits with Jackson

Tea and Biscuits with Jackson

Each and every chimp has their own way of eating their daily primate chow biscuits. CJ tastes a small bite of each one before digging in, Herbie gets his water bottle at the ready to soften the crunchy biscuits in his mouth, Thiele fits as many as she can get in her mouth at once. Jackson especially loves to eat them in his own way. Some days, when he manages to find a cup of water, he lets all of his chow biscuits soak and soften before eating them. Other days he finds a water bottle and a flat area to mash his soggy chow biscuits into a single patty.

This week the chimps received buckets of iced tea outside of their enclosures with long straws reaching in so that they could stay hydrated in the heat. While feeding Jackson his chow he took every piece that I handed to him with the tongs and pushed them through the fence into the bucket of tea. I’d use the tongs to reach into the bucket and pass the biscuit back to him but after mouthing it a bit, he decided that it wasn’t saturated enough and dropped it back in the bucket. It went on like this for several minutes. If the piece I handed back to him was soaked with tea to his satisfaction he would eat it and savor it but if he didn’t deem it ready, he’d just pop it right back in the bucket to soak longer. Did Jackson learn this behavior from someone or does he just share a love of dunking his biscuits in tea like many humans do?

This tea and biscuits interaction reminded me of the stories that I’ve read about the London Zoo’s chimpanzee tea parties. In 1926, the London Zoo began putting its chimpanzee group in human clothes and setting up a tea party for them, to entertain visitors. The resemblance to humans began to make zoo visitors uncomfortable so the zoo keepers trained the chimps to do silly things such as putting tea cups in the tea pot, so that visitors could again laugh at the goofy apes without having to acknowledge how intelligent they really are.

Chimpanzees are incredibly intelligent and anyone who takes the time to really watch their behavior will be truly amazed at what they are capable of.