Allie and the Art of Chimpanzee Introductions

Save the Chimps, one of the largest chimpanzee sanctuaries in the world, provides a peaceful and dignified retirement to more than 220 chimpanzees retired from biomedical research, entertainment, and the pet trade. Before their retirement to Save the Chimps, many of our residents did not have the companionship, space, and enrichment they need to thrive.

Managing such a large population of chimpanzees occasionally requires “introductions” — where a chimpanzee, or group of chimpanzees, is introduced to unfamiliar chimpanzees. Chimpanzees are very social, very intelligent, extremely territorial, and highly political. This can make introductions very challenging. When not done correctly, introductions can lead to severe injuries from aggression (which can happen both at the time of the introduction, or, more commonly, several days or weeks later).

Allie was 19 years old when she arrived at Save the Chimps. Allie had been a pet for the first half of her life. After that, she was sent back to the breeding facility where she came from. Throughout her life, she had extremely limited experiences with other chimpanzees. As such, she was much more comfortable interacting with human care technicians than other chimpanzees. Allie didn’t really act like a chimpanzee (very little vocalizations, no displays, etc.). She enjoyed sitting with care technicians, looking at books, and watching movies. In short, Allie didn’t really understand that she was a chimpanzee — making the process of integration very difficult.

Chimpanzees thrive from forming social bonds and fulfilling social roles. Without socialization, chimpanzees exhibit signs of anxiety, boredom, and/or depression. Therefore, it is imperative that, as caretakers of chimpanzees, we strive to allow all aspects of social behavior for our residents.

In order to mitigate the risks involved with introductions, we employ a strategic approach that takes into account the personality profiles of the chimpanzees involved as well as determining all aspects of the introduction event (space used, personnel present, contingency plans, emergency responses, etc.). Custom Introduction Plans for each chimpanzee are put together by the Section Curators, with final approval from the Director of Chimpanzee Behavior and Care, Director of Veterinary Services, and the Chimpanzee Care Manager. Before, during, and after the introduction event, all involved chimpanzees are monitored and assessed for anxiety or other behavioral indicators of compromised well-being.

After spending several months at Special Needs getting acclimated to Save the Chimps, we moved Allie to Tanya’s building.At first, Allie was extremely anxious around other chimpanzees in the building. She would violently rock back and forth if another chimpanzee approached her. This changed when she met a male chimpanzee named Spike. Allie quickly bonded with Spike — who gave her reassurance. Once the bond with Spike was established, Allie was able to be successfully introduced to the other chimpanzees at Tanya’s. Very quickly Allie began exhibiting more behaviors typical of a chimpanzee (asking for reassurance from other chimpanzees, grooming, etc.). She also became less interested in human interactions — preferring to spend time with her chimpanzee companions. Allie is now completely integrated into Tanya’s group. She spends most of her time outside. She explores her five-acre island, frequently climbing the trees and napping in the shade.

Through these efforts, Save the Chimps has been successful in building large social groups that have 24-hour access to large island habitats. Here the chimpanzees enjoy the freedom of movement, freedom of socialization, and freedom of choice. Supporters like you give Save the Chimps the chance to help chimps like Allie be chimps again.