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Friday, August 7, 2009
Kuwa na Mzazi Mzuri (To Be a Good Parent)
As I watch mother and infant chimpanzees all day long, I think about how Jane Goodall wrote about learning to be a mother by watching mother chimpanzees in her book “Through a Window.” One of her examples is watching Fifi with her infant, Fanni. Well, Fanni is all grown-up, and now I am learning from Fanni as she interacts with her daughter Fadhila.
Much like Jane at the time of her initial observations, I am not a parent yet, but I feel like I am learning some parenting skills out here. That is not to say that I am taking any advice from the males because with chimpanzees, males play little of a role when it comes to parenting.
Two things I have learned so far from watching mothers and infants include security and tolerance. In a previous blog I mentioned how when Gimli played too rough with Siri, Sandi (Siri’s mother) came to the rescue. Of course, this is not an isolated event, and mothers will often step in if things get too rough.
However, there are limits to the amount of security a parent should apply. Eliza is the mother of Eriki, and she seems to have good intentions but not the best execution. Eliza gives Eriki little freedom, and if he tries to walk away to play with other chimpanzees, she quickly grabs him by the leg and pulls him into her arms.
While she plays with Eriki a fair amount, I feel sorry for him whenever there are a bunch of chimpanzees playing together and he is stuck in mom’s arms. I can just hear him say, in my head, “Aww, come on mom, all the other kids are out playing.”
Also, I have to hold myself from laughing every time I see a mom who is ready to leave and a kid who isn’t. The result is always the mom grabbing a leg of the infant and walking away, dragging them behind.
I have also been learning how much patience it takes to be a parent. When chimpanzees eat various types of food, they wadge it, with basically means they stuff a bunch of food in their lower lip and slowly chew on it. I have been watching chimpanzees out here now for three months, and it never ceases to amaze me when I see an infant stick their hand into their mother’s mouth to take out a chunk of fruit to eat.
I should point out that infants over 2 years of age are often very capable of finding their own fruit, but I am sure they find that getting food from mom’s mouth is tasty and much easier than climbing the tree themselves.
I have even had a chance to put into practice some of the knowledge I have gained by watching the chimpanzees. While getting ready to leave the forest after an exhausting day, Magombe, my field assistant, mentioned to me that his knee was sore. So I did the only logical thing I could think of and asked him if he wanted to ride on my back like how the infants ride on their mother’s back. He was getting ready to climb on but then changed his mind at the last second. So then I grabbed him by the ankle and dragged him back to camp.
I guess I still have much to learn about parenting.
Matt Heinz, who is obviously kidding about the “dragging by the ankle” bit
Gombe Field Diaries
Lincoln Park Zoo is partnering with the Jane Goodall Institute to study and conserve chimpanzees in Tanzania’s Gombe National Park, the site of Jane Goodall’s groundbreaking research. Our Gombe field diaries feature updates as scientists monitor chimpanzee health, study ape behavior and experience life in Gombe.
As director of the Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes, Lonsdorf leads Lincoln Park Zoo efforts in Gombe National Park.
Rachel Santymire, Ph.D.
An endocrinologist in the Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology, Santymire studies stress and reproduction in Gombe's chipmanzees.
A graduate student in the Committee on Evolutionary Biology at the University of Chicago, Matt is studying how levels of play in Gombe¹s chimpanzees influence stress, development and reproductive success.
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