BBC Dynasties, Chimpanzee Politics

The first episode of David Attenborough’s newest series, Dynasties, aired this past Sunday. It followed the fortunes of David, the aging alpha of a Senegal chimpanzee troop. The life of an alpha is not easy; David must constantly fend off challenges from other males that covet his position and the benefits that go along with it (i.e. preferential mating with females in estrus). Clashes for the leadership position are often violent and can have fatal consequences.

The episode condensed two years of footage into one hour. Doubtless there was a lot that was omitted in favour of telling a compelling story, but David’s intelligence and resilience shine through. As an aging leader, David strategically hid his weaknesses and formed alliances with older non-threatening males.

In contrast to this strategizing, David’s younger would-be usurpers were more overtly physical in their quest to become alpha. One young male, Jumkin, was shown bullying an elderly female. Another young male, Luthor, spent weeks violently throwing rocks during David’s absence (the BBC filming crew feared for their safety during these intimidating displays).

Ultimately, David recovered the leadership position, giving viewers a seemingly happy ending. However, since the conclusion of filming, BBC reports that David was killed by a coalition led by Jumkin and Luthor, and Jumkin has now become the alpha of the troop. Dr. Jill Pruetz, the anthropologist that studies the troop, reports that David was quite aggressive, and this is why he was able to defend his position for so long. Perhaps this is also why he met a violent end, since other males that survive to old age do so by relinquishing power and submitting when they are past their prime.

At any rate, I think the instructive part of the episode was David’s apparent skill at fostering alliances with the older males. Under Jumkin’s rule, the chimpanzee troop has been less stable and cohesive; the group doesn’t pay him the same level of respect as they did to David. It would seem that effective leadership demands more than being the biggest and loudest bully.

Frans De Waal has studied and written extensively about chimpanzee politics and many of his findings are instructive and applicable to human situations. In the following TedTalk on alphas, he notes that effective chimpanzee leaders must project strength, but they also have the ability to foster troop unity, play peacemaker, and they frequently stand up for the weak and the vulnerable, displaying high levels of empathy. Perhaps some of our leaders could learn a thing or two from these chimpanzees.

The B Word... Business

The past month has been busy, although I haven’t been painting as much as I’d like. Instead, I’ve been learning more about the business side of art, which I’ve largely ignored up until now.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been learning how to photograph and make reproductions of my work. I’ll be making prints available for sale soon. Thankfully I didn’t have to figure this out on my own. Tim Packer has put out a helpful YouTube video on the topic.

I’ve enrolled in a TSA class called Professional Studio, and I attended my first class last week. Maria-Saroja Ponnambalam is the instructor and she’s really enthusiastic and supportive! My classmates are a diverse and talented group and I’m hopeful that we’ll learn a lot from each other. The class delves into many of the practical aspects of being an artist (e.g. approaching galleries, how to network and market yourself, how to join the artistic community through collectives, how to make funding proposals, etc). I’m really looking forward to learning more in the weeks to come.

Another first: I submitted my paintings for jurying a couple of weeks ago, and I had my first art show this past weekend. The eve of the show was somewhat hair raising because I had a health incident at the same time. Fortunately, MacKenzie was there to nurse me and hang my paintings for the show (I couldn’t ask for a more supportive partner)!

As for the show itself, it was exciting to put my work up for public viewing and sale at long last. As it turns out, the Three Wise Tamarins sold and they’ve found a new home! I didn’t expect to sell anything this weekend, but when I showed up on Sunday night and saw the tamarins gone from their spot on the wall, I felt a mixture of feelings: mainly happiness that they’ve gone out into the world and that they’re providing someone with enjoyment, but also a hint of sadness that I wouldn’t see them again. I guess this is the cycle that every artist hopes to go through!

In a week-and-a-half, I’ll be entering my second show with the Don Valley Art Club at Todmorden Mills which runs from Nov 14-25. Come check it out if you can. After that show wraps up, I’ll be done with the current zoo series of paintings (I currently have the 10th and final painting on my easel which just needs a few finishing touches).

Heading into 2019, I’ll be looking to start a new series that will incorporate some different ideas and techniques (it will still be animal-based). I’m looking forward to exploring and sharing this new direction in the months to come.


Yesterday as I was entering the house, I saw a decent sized jumping spider (the largest I’ve seen yet) peeking out from behind our mailbox. Because of its size, I thought it might be a female (about 1.5 cm long). I called Mack to come over and look at it, but it became shy at all of the attention and retreated behind the mailbox, so we left it alone. I went outside a bit later to see if it was still there, but it was nowhere to be found. Shortly afterwards, Mack found it crawling around in our front foyer, so apparently it had snuck in or followed me into the house.

I first learned about jumping spiders when I began looking into macro photography. Jumping spiders have appealing proportions (chunky body parts, large eyes, furry). They hunt by stalking their prey instead of ensnaring their victims in a web. Depending on the prey, they will use different hunting strategies and they are considered unusually intelligent (a study from 2016 demonstrated that they formulate plans). Recently, some researchers trained a jumping spider named Kim to jump on cue to study its jumping capabilities.

This morning I googled jumping spiders to try and identify the guest in our house. Based on coloration and markings, it may be a male bold jumping spider. One fact that I learned about jumping spiders is that males (who are smaller) will employ a mating dance to signal to a female that they are not prey. These displays can be quite elaborate and mesmerizing. If you’re afraid of spiders, check out the following video. These little critters just might charm you.


Thanks for stopping by!

I'll be using this blog to share photos of my works in progress, as well as musings about art and animals in the weeks and months to come. My goal is to produce 15 pieces for a show some time in 2019. 

If you have instagram, you can also follow me @georgeleeart.