Chimpanzees don’t like water – that’s why they’re often kept on islands at zoos, but nine-year-old Bossou (photo right) waded in regardless. People visiting the zoo said he seemed like he wanted to protect them from his rambunctious fellow chimps in case they might hurt the newborns.
“This large chimpanzee, who was a male, cradled the ducklings, looked after them and minded them, thinking they were in danger,” said Miriam Kerins of the Dublin SPCA. “I think it’s so touching.”
Zookeeper Yvonne McCann was quickly alerted, and she went over to the island to retrieve the babies from Bossou.
But chimpanzee are smart – indeed shrewd – and Bossou realized at that point that he had something of great value to his human captors. So he demanded a reward: one banana for each duckling. McCann was all too happy to pay up, one banana and one duckling at a time.
How did the little trio come to be alone in the water at the zoo?
“The mother built her nest on the side of the island,” said the SPCA’s Kerins. “When the chicks hatched, gentle giant Bossou thought they might have been in trouble. In his mind he was rescuing them, and he was cradling them to his chest. We can only imagine that he thought the other monkeys were a threat and he may have sensed something.” (Editorial note: For the record, chimpanzees, like humans, are apes, not monkeys.)
But are chimpanzees truly altruistic in this way? Or did Bossou see the ducklings as an interesting diversion and then had to be coaxed into giving them up? Certainly there have been examples of chimps at zoos picking up ducks and being less gentle. (For a rather grim example of that, see this video from the Chester Zoo.) But that’s no different from human behavior. Some humans want to help animals, while others simply want to hurt, hunt and kill them. Humans and chimps share 98 percent of our DNA.
“I think it is entirely possible that Boussou wanted to save and care for the ducklings and that the bananas were a bribe to give them up,” said Dr. Lori Marino, a professor of psychology at Emory University with expertise in chimpanzees and dolphins. “But he may not have had it in his mind to give them up initially. One will never know but if I had to guess what happened – and having experience with chimps who want to trade one thing for another (which they readily do and understand) – I’d say that Boussou wanted to save the little ducklings and intended to keep them but was enticed to give them up. This is why observations are often difficult to interpret.”
Paddle, Waddle and Drake, as the ducklings are now known, were quickly taken to the SPCA shelter and are being kept under heat lamps until they’re ready to be released – hopefully to be reunited with their mom.