Willow is another teenie-tiny that I talk about a lot. To everyone. She was born early last season and I started following her when she was about two weeks old. At that time, she was the youngest individual I had ever followed. She marked the end of the 2014-2015 baby boom and I wasn’t anticipating any additional babies to be born before the end of the study. Of course I was very wrong about that, but those babies are for another post- I can only dole out so much cuteness at a time, you know?
Willow’s big brother Wallace is a KCP favorite. He’s so curious and social- he’s the one who groomed a redtail monkey last year. I couldn’t wait to see how he would interact with his little sister, whether she would be as social as he was, whether see would be sassy or sweet. As I had never observed such a young baby, I had no idea what to expect, but I could not wait to see.
She was so tiny and so fluffy when we first met her- but about 80% of the fluff was concentrated around her head. Like humans, chimp babies’ heads seem far too big for their bodies for a long time. Willow had so much long hair and it shaped around her big chimp baby head like Vader’s helmet, but since it was hair and not jet-black plastic, she looked more like Chewy than Darth. Naturally, D and I instantly nicknamed her Wookie. We still call her Wookie.
Willow quickly rose in my rank on my favorite chimps list. She is spunky and curious like her brother. By the time she was a few months old she was jumping off her mom and exploring the world around her at every opportunity Wilma would allow. Both Wilma and Wallace love playing with her. Wallace carries her around frequently, which isn’t abnormal for siblings to do. Quiver carries Quake all the time. Omusisa and Gola both carried Olympia. Last year, Likizo carried his little sister, Leakey. I’ve seen dozens of instances of siblings and non-mothers carrying infants around on their bellies. But, until this year, I had never seen anyone other than an infants mother carry an infant on their back- I assume because the balance is a bit more difficult for baby and carrier. Continuing their family’s record of crazy awesome sociality, Wallace turned toward his sisters as the family travelled between fruit trees, pulling her toward him and gesturing for her to climb up onto his back just like a mother typically would. She obliged, Wilma allowed it, and they continued travelling like that for a few hundred meters. Actually, Willow switched to riding dorsally much earlier than most infants. Now she rides her mom sitting up as if Wilma is a horse, even standing up like a surfer every now and then1.
At about 15 months old, Willow is still one of my favorite infants to follow. I’ve watched her transition from playing with only her mom and brother to approaching other babies, other big kids, other grown-ups. She isn’t quite as fearless as Quake, but she comes close and Quake is one of her favorite play partners just like Quiver is a favorite of Wallace. I can’t tell if it’s merely Proud-Mama-Syndrome or what I’ve noticed is real (we’ll have to wait on data analysis for a conclusive answer), but she seems ahead of the curve on every social development metric: youngest to groom a non-mother, youngest to ride dorsally for the first time, youngest to insist on walking on her own… She’s just so darned cute.
(1) Willow isn’t the only baby that stands on her mom’s back while travelling, but she most definitely does it more often than most.
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This blog is a forum share my personal experiences as a field researcher and traveler.