Search This Blog


Friday, May 21, 2010

How much does it cost for a chimp to live?

Yesterday, I published an article on how much it costs to live. It turns out that how much it costs you depends on where you live. The further away from human habitation you live, the less it costs -- in terms of money. This is true for chimpanzees as well as humans. It doesn't cost anything to maintain a chimpanzee in its natural habitat. The chimps take care of themselves. They are self-sufficient. The problem is that they need a large territory, one on which they can feed. And as good at patrolling their borders as they are, chimpanzees armed with nothing better than sticks cannot be expected to keep the burgeoning human population out, when humans have better weapons. Without the territory, the traditional lifestyle of the chimpanzee cannot be maintained. 

This is where different chimpanzee advocates take different stands. Some say that chimps should either live naturally or not live at all. I prefer to think that adopting a different lifestyle is sometimes the only way to survive and that thriving under changing circumstances requires flexibility.

I have a plan to turn five acres of my property into an island where Bow and his bride and their children can live, when he becomes an adult. But let's face it, five acres are nothing compared to the territory that chimpanzees in the wild need in order to keep themselves fed. I was thinking of planting fruit trees and blackberry bushes on  the island, but the truth is that if Bow continues to resist the idea of self-control and deferred gratification, the fruit trees will not stand a chance of surviving. In order to live off the land, when your territory is very small, you have to resist the natural urge to destroy everything that lies in your path. Otherwise, the fruit trees will have to be planted on the other side of the water, and humans will have to pick the fruit for Bow and his family. That will render Bow and his family dependent parasites, and it will require someone to pay the humans for their time. Humans only pick fruit for others when they are paid for doing so.

I don't want that for Bow and his future family. If the humans are keeping the chimps, you can bet that it's the humans who will also be calling the shots. If Bow is ever to achieve independence, he has to learn to be self-sufficient. In order to be self-sufficient in a limited space, you have to adopt the morals of a farmer, rather than a hunter-gatherer. It has nothing to do with being a chimp. It has nothing to do with absolute morality, prudishness or religious belief.  Different moralities evolve to fit different living conditions. A morality is just a functional set of rules to help us stay alive. That's all it is! Humans living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle have a closer affinity to wild chimpanzees in their outlook. Chimpanzees in restricted living space have to adopt the rules that function within the limitations of such a space.

How much money does it cost to  keep a chimpanzee alive? None, if he's taking care of himself!


  1. "I prefer to think that adopting a different lifestyle is sometimes the only way to survive and that thriving under changing circumstances requires flexibility."

    Yes, this is true. Adaptability is the way to survive. One thing I have noticed with our local wildlife is that the box turtles and toads that survive today are very different from those I knew as a child. When I was a child, box turtles were very wild, couldn't be contained in a natural setting, and wouldn't eat in captivity. The ones that live in my yard now stay within the fence because it is a more desirable habitat and seek me out when I am outside in hopes I will give them some fruit or a bite of dog food!

    Toads used to eat only live food. Now they line up around the cat food dishes and score pieces of cat food with their tongues. They also make themselves known to me because they have figured out that the food comes from me!

    This may not be an entirely natural life, but it is better than no life at all!

    If your fruit trees are mature when you introduce Bow to your area, will he still destroy them? Maybe you could plant some mulberry trees now. They are very tough. They mature very quickly, spread rapidly and provide lots and lots of berries in the springtime. The leaves are also edible to herbivores. That would take care of a little bit of your needs.

    Another tough, fast-growing,quick spreading tree that may or may not be useful to you is the horse-apple tree. I don't know the scientific name for it. (Bodark, maybe.) It produces big, edible (to horses, donkeys, mules, and cattle,anyway) fruit in abundance. Again, the leaves are also edible.

    Pecan trees are great for these reasons, too.Except, I believe the leaves are bitter.

    Poking every peach pit your home ever produces into the ground will result in tough, free trees in the area you have in mind, too. The fruit you get in this way won't be something a person would want, but the wildlife in my yard enjoys it, and Bow might, too! Apricot pits would probably give you the same results.

    Of course, these trees are native or naturalized to Texas. Maybe they wouldn't grow where you are, but you could look into it. Of course, there are bound to be fast growing, abundantly bearing trees that are native to your area, too that might be more useful to you than regular fruit trees.

  2. Suzanne, that's an interesting observation about toads and turtles. I haven't seen that here, but I think we must be further out in the country than you are, so the wild animals are still wild. We often see turtles trying to cross the road, and some cars will actually stop for them, or veer off course to avoid running them over.

    I don't think mulberry trees are indigenous here, and it might be hard to grow them to the point that they could withstand an assault. When we lived in Texas, my father tried to grow two mulberry trees so he could hang a hammock between them. They never grew. One died, and the other stayed as small as on the day we planted it. But some cottonwood seeds just blew into our garden spot, and two cottonwood trees grew to giant proportions in no time at all.

    I think it is safer to plant trees that are indigenous or that we have seen flourish in the area. Blackberry bushes grow all on their own in our unmowed pasture, and they do produce edible berries. The only problem is that you have to brave the ticks and the chiggers to get to them.;->

    Anyway, in order to thrive under limited circumstances, there has to be an understanding that we don't take apart a tree every night to make a nest! We have to treat the trees with respect, the way a farmer does, but a forager may not.

  3. He sleeps on his giant stuffed teddy bear that serves as a mattress.

  4. Hmmm...Well, perhaps you could manage his tree destroying behavior by making certain concessions to his natural lifestyle on his island. I know that in the wild, chimps like to forage all day, then begin settling down and building new beds for the night in the late afternoon. Perhaps Bow and his family could forage during the day, then come home to their tree-house compound at tea time to have a late afternoon snack, some time with you, and to build new beds of straw, hay or perhaps even branches donated by a tree service. Or, if Bow has been happy sleeping on the same thing all this time, perhaps he could just move his stuffed teddy bear to his tree-house and perhaps his family could be happy with the same sort of arrangement.

    Won't they need a house, anyway? Doesn't it get too cold for a chimp to sleep outside in your area in the winter?

    Surely, you will want to have significant time with Bow and his family. You could do this in the morning at breakfast time, then bid them a merry day foraging and come back again later for "tea".

    In this way you could limit the amount of time they spend ravaging their tough, natural, abundantly producing forest. That might help some with the impact they have on it. It's not an entirely natural life, and you would still have to feed them something, but surely you were planning to do that, anyway.

    Like my box turtles and toads, they would still be able to enjoy a natural style of life, but with someone looking out for them and checking in on them once or twice a day to be sure they are OK and truly getting enough to eat.

  5. Suzanne, yes, they will need an indoor place to stay during the cold winter months. My idea is that there will be an underground tunnel from the island to the pens. They could decide when to return to the pens. This way, they could have the freedom of their island, the security of the pens, and the choice of going back and forth between the two worlds.

    I understand that the two worlds will have different rules. No potty rules on the island, but also no Mommy to clean up after them. I was considering building a structure, but then who would clean it? If they just allowed themselves to go anywhere and never cleaned up, it would be a health hazard.

    Chimpanzees in the wild avoid all these cleanup problems by moving around a lot. They destroy one spot, then leave it regrow. That just won't be an option here.

    I figure that we will make a deal: we live by my rules in the pens and by their rules on the island. It seems like a reasonable compromise, don't you think?

    But still, eventually I will die. And if they want to avoid always being under some human being's thumb, they need to adopt some reasonable stewardship policies of their own. That's my dream for them.

  6. Suzanne, I forgot to mention one thing about Bow's teddy bear mattress. He only gets it at night. I have to take it and the blanket away every morning, or he would tear them up. It's this kind of problem, if it persists, that would prevent him from being truly independent.

  7. Hmmm....I think the idea of complete independence on the island may be a little unworkable. If it were me, I would maintain a little behavior control by having the chimps come in in the afternoon and sleep in the same place every night. By controlling that one, destructive behavior, the island would stay a lot more livable and useful for them.

    Also, by establishing a routine that could be taught to other humans, you would add some insurance for Bow and his family's care if you become ill, too old to care for them, or when you die. It would be easier for someone else to step into an established routine that provides stability and a measure of control.

    I think having freedom to roam and forage during the day and the safety and calming influence of a daily settle-down, bedtime routine is a good compromise.

    I really have never found it possible even to teach humans or animals to do things that go completely against their nature. I think it is far better to manage behavior as you have, with environmental control. By removing the object that would be destroyed during the day, and by removing the destroyer from the object he would destroy at bedtime you manage the situation effectively without trying to make fundamental changes to Bow's nature.

    If it were me, I would plan to continue to manage that behavior, and yes, someone will have to maintain the chimps' home, whether it is a house on their island or the pens. Tearing up trees to make a bed at night, then tearing up the bed in the morning is not really a "problem behavior" for a chimp. It is my understanding that this is their nature. It's hard-wired and not something that can be trained away (as far as I know).

    I think of Bow as a combination of a large animal that needs care, a demanding teenage boy and/or an adult with behavior needs. A being possessing any combination of these traits will need responsible support from an adult human. Unfortunately, since he does not live in the wild, he will never have the opportunity to have a completely independent life. It will be necessary for him to compromise by straddling the chimp and human worlds. Luckily, that is a great way for him to reap the benefits of both.

    Compare his situation with adults with developmental delay. In the past, they were kept in institutions (read ZOOS). Now we know that they can have successful lives with a great deal of independence as long as they have a somewhat controlled environment, such as a group home, or even their own apartment with regular visits from a social worker or aid to be sure things are being taken care of. They can live full, enjoyable, profitable lives, holding down jobs, and even marrying and being parents, as long as there is someone there to be sure routines are being followed, behaviors are being managed and resources are being used properly. The job of the support person is a big one, but it is worth it because it is beneficial to both the person with developmental delay and society.

    This is certainly not an exact comparison, but it is one that comes to mind. It involves acceptance of the fact that the person cannot be completely independent, but s/he can be very independent and make the most of everything that is available with compromise and support.