Thursday, May 7, 2009

On to the Chimpanzees of Mahale Mountain ... Glenn

Glenn, Stomping Around

As with all my blogging, please note that what I have written below comes from my observations and public articles I've read or viewed, and not from the LA Zoo itself. My blogs are not affiliated with the Los Angeles Zoo. I am not an expert, only a quiet observer, and reader on great apes. LA Zoo is near my residence and has been a convenient and wonderful place for me to observe these wonderful creatures. I began observing them when I started walking at the LA Zoo for my health. (The zoo's beauty and life kept me motivated to keep walking.) The great apes grabbed my attention, and so I began researching outside articles and videos as I continued to observe these incredible animals. Thus, my blogs.

Once again, I have been stalling on this blog because I do not have great photos of my subject, Glenn. My hard drive and laptop have both been struggling lately, though. So, I've been taking and uploading fewer pictures while I work to save the picture files from them. Nonetheless, I couldn't wait to introduce you to the LA Zoo chimpanzees, and wanted to start with the current Alpha male of the group of thirteen.

Glenn was born on April 21, 1994, to Nan and Judeo at the Los Angeles Zoo. He was small and had to be supported by his mother for quite some time, according to the zoo's bio on him. But, he grew into a quite a handsome, strong-willed adult chimp ... I think the best looking of the males. He has plenty of beautiful black hair, and his face is nearly a perfect model of a chimpanzee.

Chimpanzees, according to LA Zoo's site, tend to "live in communities of up to 80 individuals." Unlike the gorillas, who live in small family groups, or the orangutans, who live solitary lives, the chimpanzees live in large groups with several to many males vying for dominance, and a greater number of females to cause more friction among the males. While females, who are under the males in the ultimate hierarchy, tend to see age as the major factor in the females' hierarchy, the males who are strongest and largest are normally the highest ranking. (see for further info).

This normal hierarchy tendency seems to make LA Zoo's Glenn the unlikely candidate for the Alpha male position because he is actually the 3rd or even 4th largest male of the 5 LA Zoo males, and is also ranking 3rd when it comes to the males' ages. Not only so, but Glenn comes from the subordinate, or smallest, family in this troop consisting of 2 family groups. So, how is it that Glenn is the current Alpha male of the group? His brother, Shaun. For, Shaun is by far the largest of the troop, and very intimidating to look at. Shaun was the alpha for some time, but didn't enjoy it, and, in order to keep the position in and for his family, he handed the responsibility off to his younger brother Glenn. And, when the need comes, and it often does, Shaun will stand up for his brother. Another interesting thing about chimpanzees is that the mothers of the boys often get involved in the dominance struggles ... and, the Chimpanzees of Mahale Mountains (in LA Zoo) are no exception to this rule. Both Shaun and Glenn's mother, Nan, and the rivaling brothers' (Jerrard and Ripley) mother, Pandora, get involved in their arguments. This is very interesting to see, as Pandora is becoming elderly at the age of 42, and Nan, nearly 30, is one of the smallest of the chimps (exceptions only are the 3 ten year olds).

The LA Zoo should be proud of the fact their chimps act so much like those being studied in the wild. For instance, the "F Troop" that was once studied by Jane Goodall and is continuing to be studied by BBC Worldwide, has many similarities to the LA Zoo's chimps. For the most part, they live very socially ... grooming and laying around together in their large enclosure. But, like the wild chimpanzees of Gombe's F Troop, there always seems to be underlying tension among the males who are continuing to struggle for dominance. As in the wild, and the very reason chimpanzees should never be kept as pets, though, these chimps (and all chimps) can be very aggressive.

LA Zoo should be praised for their efforts to allow these chimps to act and interact normally in their large and beautiful habitat. Their enclosure keeps the chimps safely inside while visitors can enjoy watching them behave normally, which is usually peaceful. And, in watching these chimps so often, it seems that the zookeepers and healthcare team care for the chimps with excellence, but with as little interference into their lives as possible.

Anyway, back to Glenn. Glenn can often be seen displaying his dominance, as male chimps do, by standing bipedally, piloerect (hair standing on end), making noise, stomping his fist or foot, and even throwing himself against the walls or rocks. This signals to the other chimps that he is the dominant male and dares anyone to challenge him. Sometimes, his older brother Shaun will make such displays as if to say, I dare you to challenge my little brother. And, at other times, Jerrard, and especially younger, but larger than Glenn, Ripley will make such displays as if to challenge Glenn and/or Shaun.

As in the wild, each troop will take on their own characteristics and habits. One of the habits the LA Zoo's troop has picked up is hair plucking during dominance struggles. Now Pandora's family has a tendency to go bald naturally from the head down as they age. But, these males have also begun hair plucking the other capable males in order to make them look less threatening when they become piloerect. As alpha, Glenn has kept the most hair of the 4 oldest and capable males. But, Shaun, Jerrard, and Ripley are all missing patches of hair from their necks and backs due to hair plucking. Young Jake (10 yrs old) has not yet succombed to the hair plucking since he, as of yet, has not really shown a threat to anyone's dominance. So, now that Jake is becoming larger, it is sometimes difficult to tell Jake apart from Glenn at a distance. For, they both have a lot of beautiful, black hair.

Glenn in the shadows:
In the Shadows

Glenn, getting some alone time, while watching his troop:
"The Man"

The Big Guys (Glenn sitting behind big brother Shaun):
The Big Guys

Glenn (above) sitting with his mother Nan (below):
Mother and Son

Glenn stomping his foot:
Glenn Stomping His Foot

Glenn playing "see-food":
Glenn Shows His Food

Glenn scratching an itch:
Scratching an Itch

Glenn displaying his dominance to the troop:
Glenn On His Way Back Down

Glenn in a power jump, displaying dominance:
Glenn Begins His Power Jump

Glenn continuing his display of dominance to his troop:
Glenn Jumping Against the Wall

"Big Man" Glenn ... at least he looks it when he is piloerect:
Glenn Beginning His Display of Dominance

Glenn Tells All That He's the Alpha


  1. This is awesome, very interesting....I just stumbled on, and will be back.
    I am obsessed with Chimpanzees....

  2. Thanks. This is what I always hope a blog will be and hardly ever is. I am an anthropology student and have done hours of observations of this group and you really make the group and the exhibit come alive. Great pictures and captions!