What is it about?

Chimpanzees migrating to a new colony, both in the wild and in captivity, can encounter difficulties integrating into their new social group. Newcomers are at risk of increased aggression, and may employ different strategies to improve their chances of integrating successfully. One possible strategy may be to behave in a way that is similar to the individuals already in the group, as such copying of behavior has been linked to increased favorability in humans. We observed two chimpanzee females during their integration at the Royal Burgers’ Zoo, the Netherlands. One of the females rapidly adopted a local tradition, the crossed-arm walk, an unnecessarily odd way of walking that seems to have no function but has been present in the colony for over 20 years. The new female copied this behavior within two days after meeting the first female from the colony, and before meeting any other new group members. In contrast, the other new female never adopted the crossed-arm walk and remained the only female in the colony not engaging in the tradition. These observations highlight both the variation in behaviors that immigrant chimpanzees may adopt during an integration, as well as the potential consequences of these behaviors, as we found that the female who did copy the crossed-arm walk appeared to be better socially integrated in the colony 2 years later than the female who did not copy the behavior.

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Why is it important?

Introducing chimpanzees to a new group is notoriously difficult, and this study illustrates how individuals may behave differently when integrating. The findings may point towards a known phenomenon in humans: that similarity breeds connection. Perhaps adopting this behavior helped the new female integrate in her group. It is interesting to consider how new individuals facilitate integration into the established group, so how they 'fit in' and create new connections. This study highlights that behavior during the beginning of the introduction may be important to consider, as well as how varying circumstances of new individuals affect their behavior.

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This page is a summary of: Zoo-housed female chimpanzee adopts local female-specific tradition upon immigrating into a new group, Behaviour, February 2021, Brill, DOI: 10.1163/1568539x-bja10075.
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