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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Virtual Dominance Displays

Recently Sword celebrated her twelfth birthday, and Bow was not in attendance. He had not been invited to the party. This made him sad, but Lawrence stayed with him all day, and they had a special party of their own. Meanwhile, Sword had her party at Orchard House with her grandmother and me and four of her friends from school, two girls and two boys.

Having been excluded from quite a number of parties myself, I understood how Bow felt when he told Lawrence that he wanted to go to the party, too. But I also understood Sword. Lately, every time she brings home a friend, Bow insists on going into a protracted dominance display for the new person that sometimes does not end until the guest leaves. It's hard enough being a tween and needing your mother's approval for sleepovers. Having to consult with your younger chimpanzee brother is completely intolerable. So I gave my permission for a party that did not include Bow.

You would think that an intelligent nine year old male chimpanzee could foresee that social exclusion would be the unavoidable result of such aggressive tactics on his part, but even if he can foresee this, he has no control over himself. The displays appear to be hard-wired.

What is a dominance display? Well, you could look it up in the wikipedia, or you could watch the video I embedded below to see what it looks like. Every time Bow meets a stranger, he goes into a frenzied display of his strength and prowess calculated to send the stranger cowering for the bushes. He does this even if the stranger is on the other side of the continent in a Skype video call!

Julia Hanna is a talented writer and artist who also contributes to my article directory, PubWages. This Sunday, I interviewed her for my YouTube channel. We thought we would do it in the morning with Bow present, but due to his insistent display, we had to postpone it till the evening, when he was asleep. Notice that Bow was not really being violent. He didn't hurt anyone. He just wanted to scare Julia into submission, and he was quite frustrated when it didn't work, and we kept talking around his display. He was very careful not to hurt me, gently moving me aside so he could hurtle himself at the computer screen. But interestingly enough, he didn't hurt the computer, either. He knew that if he smashed the screen, Julia would disappear, and then who would be there for him to intimidate? As soon as the call was over, he sat down peacefully before the laptop on the floor with a pensive look on his face.

When Bow goes into these displays, it does not mean that he doesn't like the person he is trying to scare. Sometimes he likes them very much and even hopes for a successful relationship. He just wants to make sure that he ends up on top!

You may think that this is a practice that only chimpanzees engage in, but that is not accurate. Other primates have similar behaviors, and I have seen many a dominance display performed by a human lawyer in the course of my law practice.

For Bow's sake, I would like to find some chimpanzees that he can practice his displays on through the safety and comfort of an internet video call. If you know of any chimpanzees who would be willing to reciprocate, please drop me a line!