The Sounds of a Social Chimp

The Sounds of a Social Chimp

Grooming is an important social behaviour for chimpanzees, one that solidifies friendships and alliances, acts as a gesture of reconciliation after a falling out, and also plays a function in keeping their skin and hair clean and free from dirt and parasites. Even if you can’t see the chimps, you can often tell that they are enjoying a friendly grooming session because of the vocalizations they produce: lip smacking or spluttering sounds. Some chimps voice their enthusiasm for grooming more obviously than do others. Jackson is such an expressive fellow that I was not all that surprised when I found my work in the Chimp House to be punctuated by the loudest grooming lip-smacks that I had ever heard, and looking over, I could see that it was Jackson who was having such a great time socializing, in this instance with alpha male and role model Topo. Knowing how vital it is for chimps to use grooming as a way of maintaining bonds, it was really lovely to hear just how enthusiastic Jackson was to give Topo a good spruce up. He showed a great deal of intensity as he gazed into his mentor’s face, full of concentration for the job at hand. Social behaviours such as grooming are adversely affected by being raised from humans and isolated from their own kind during infancy, so seeing and hearing Jackson’s eagerness for this important bonding activity, I could not help but smile — and from the contented look on Topo’s face, clearly I was not the only one having my day brightened by Jackson’s grooming  enthusiasm.

Amy, Intern