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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Bow's Fame

A reader of this blog emailed this morning to ask whether Bow is aware that he is a little bit famous. She suggested that while this might not make up for the fact that he has no girl friend, it might be some consolation. The answer is yes, he knows about his fame, and in fact he has an exaggerated awareness of his own importance in the world at large. He often asks me not to write about certain things that he has done, because he doesn't want people to think that he is "bad." Right after doing something not so nice, he will spell: "Mommy, don't tell them that I did that."

I am now reaching an uncomfortable point in chronicling my family's life, because both my kids have become aware, painfully aware, that I write about them, and I have to exercise a little more caution about what I say. I myself up until recently thought that I was writing for an audience of strangers, only to find local people to be among my readers. I have to watch what I say more now, so as not to hurt the feelings of my children or of the people they interact with.

In Bow's case, his awareness of his public image can sometimes grow way out of proportion. He knows that many people do not believe he can write, and he is not planning to enlighten them. He'd rather they continue to think that, because someone once told him that his life would be in danger if the truth came out. This has created a sort of paranoia that puts him at center stage, even when what is going on is not about him at all.

Once, somebody knocked at our door by mistake.   He was trying to find one of our neighbors, but  these country roads can get confusing, and he was lost. I gave him directions, and off he went. All this time, Bow was watching the front door from  the pens. When I went back in with him, Bow spelled. "That man lied. He's not lost. He came to see me."

"Bow you're not the center of the universe," I tried to tell him. "Not everything is about you." But he was not convinced.

The best thing in the world for all of us is if Bow stopped worrying about other people and their opinions and started thinking of his life in a more down to earth context. He needs a social life a lot more than he needs fans. And he needs to start doing something productive for his own support, rather than expecting everyone to provide for him.

We do get donations, and we are grateful for them. But the best thing would be if we could also contribute something to the community we are a part of and trade value for value. Bow is so smart! It would be a shame if he didn't eventually find something constructive to do with all that intelligence.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Two Things

I've been busy writing on Hubpages, while Bow has been making rasberry sounds all day. Every once in a while I go in to deal with potty issues, and I always ask him if he wants anything. "Bow, do you want anything?"

Finally, after the umpteenth time, Bow spells: "Two things."

"What two things?"

"I want not to hear about locks."

"Okay." I've been writing about locks all day. "And what else?"

"I'm bored."

I guess it's time to stop writing, and time to start jumping around. So I'll make this post brief.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Visitor for Bow: Friendship and Sharing

Yesterday Bow had a special visitor. Linda, the daughter of our computer consultant, Tracey,  had a day off from school, and she came by with her dad just to see Bow. She was shy at first, but Bow did his best to show her his friendly side. He knew in advance that she was coming, and he was on his best behavior.

Bow can be quite intimidating when he chooses to be, flinging himself at the pen doors and displaying his strength to anyone who doubts it. But with Linda, who is eight going on nine, just like him, Bow was friendly, jumping up and down and trying to engage her in a two way interaction. He restrained himself admirably and did not start showing off his strength until she was more comfortable in his presence.

"Does he ever laugh?" Linda asked.

"Yes, he does, but he does it without using his voice." I demonstrated by doing a voiceless "ha, ha, ha", which is more like panting, and less like talking. As soon as I started, Bow joined in with his voiceless "ha, ha, ha", just to demonstrate. Then I tickled him, and he laughed louder, and this time for real. It's hard to tickle a chimpanzee, because they are all muscle. You have to apply a lot more force than with a human. But the laughter is the same, only without vibrating the vocal cords.

When Linda felt really secure with Bow, she let him have some cherry/lime soda that she had brought in a styrofoam cup. Though Tracey and Linda could not go in with us, they could share the soda with Bow through a straw that fit into the holes in the grid. Bow finished the drink, but there were still a cherry and a slice of lime deep within the styrofoam cup. To get those, I would have to bring the cup into the pen for Bow.

"How about you thank Linda for the soda," I suggested to Bow.

He spelled: "No," in Hebrew.

"I think you should," I insisted.

Bow switched to English. "T-H-A-N," he spelled, but there was a huge pause at this point.

"K-Y-O-U," Linda suggested.

Bow spelled: "K-S", opting for the shorter version.

He ate the cherry rather quickly, but the lime piece took a lot longer to consume. First he sucked all the juice out of it, slowly, puckering his lips at the sourness. Then he ate all the pulpy part. And after that, he kept chewing on the peel as if it were the greatest of delicacies.

"You make that look so good, Bow," Tracey said, "that after I get home I'm going to get me some, too, and try it."

No sooner had Tracey said this, then out came the lime peel from Bow's mouth, what was left of it, and Bow tried to stuff it into a hole in the grid so Tracey could have some. And they say chimpanzees don't like to share!

"No, no, that's okay," said Tracey, who didn't really want to share Bow's treasure. But Bow kept trying for a very long time to get that slice through the grid.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Accepting the Things We Can't Change-- and Fighting Tooth and Nail to Change the Things We Can

I have a friend who is in her late eighties. She and I speak on the phone about once a week, because we  live in different states and cannot meet in person. She is about thirty-seven years older than I am, and we met when I was in my late twenties. My friend is vibrant and alive and healthy for her age, and she is a happy person with an active social life. In fact, her social life is a lot more active than mine. As we were about to hang up the other day, she said: "You shouldn't let your animals run your life."

She meant Bow, but she could not remember his name. She can't seem to remember that he is a chimpanzee, anymore, either. But she knows that I have to stay home all day with him, and she doesn't really understand how I could let that happen.

"If I were you," she tells me, "I would not let my animals run my life. I would go out whenever I wanted to, and if I found they had misbehaved when I was gone, I would punish them with such dire consequences that they would not dare repeat it! I would beat them within an inch of their life."

Bow is sitting there right next to me, and he hears every word she says. It used to make him very angry when she said such things, and he would act up, and spell "she is bad" on the glass, and I used to have to caution her to stop, but now Bow sits placidly by and tolerates this. He's long since stopped trying to correct her when  she refers to him as a dog. "She is not okay," he will tell me later. "She doesn't remember anything."

My friend suffers from short term memory loss. She is still the same person she was before. Her personality hasn't changed, and her wit can be quite sharp. She remembers the great depression very clearly and can tell you how to grind wheat into flour by hand. But she's not good at remembering what I told her last week, or the week before, or a month ago, and she doesn't remember things that she knew about me nine years ago.

Now, normally, I am very critical of people for not remembering things. If I have an acquaintance who doesn't remember anything I tell him, I figure this acquaintance has not been paying attention, and I ease up on the contact. But this friend can't help it. This is something that has happened to her recently, and I know that it can't be helped. So Bow and I forgive her for saying what she says.

There are other friends, more distant ones, who voice similar concerns, or who fail to voice them, but give off that kind of vibe. There are friends who do not understand why I can't go visit them but insist that they come see me. Or who, when they do come to see me, don't understand why I have to stay  in the pens all day, unless Lawrence relieves me. They have animals: dogs, cats, horses, and they love their animals, but their animals do not run their lives.

For people, especially rural people, who have never dealt with a chimpanzee, but who have plenty of experience with other animals, it may seem as if I have failed to discipline Bow, and I have ceded my life over to him. But among the chimpanzee activists, I have critics who voice the opposite complaint. I once had a volunteer who chided me for hosing Bow down for a potty violation. As far as that volunteer was concerned, Bow could do no wrong, and I should let him get away with anything he wished to do, because after all, he is just a chimpanzee.

I don't punish Bow for things he can't help, but I do hold him to the highest standards in matters that are within his ability to control. I do not force him to talk. He talks because he wants to. But I do require him to abide by certain minimal rules of hygiene and respect for others. The fact that he does abide by those rules is proof that he can. To the extent that I am not able to enforce other rules, it is because he can't seem to control himself. But I am forever testing to see if perhaps he has acquired more self control.

Bow and I are in the pens, because he can't be trusted outside the pens to abide by the rules of the society we live in. I've received angry messages from some readers, along these lines: "Shame on you for putting Bow in a cage. You're the one who should be in a cage!"

Well, I am in a cage. I'm in the same cage with Bow, and I will continue to  be in the cage with him, until he is able to have more freedom. This may happen in one of two ways: either Bow will develop the self control that will allow him to live in our world outside the cage, or I can get him a much bigger cage -- like that island we dream of-- that can be like a world of its own, a self-sustaining ecosystem that will support him, even as he lives apart from human beings.

I believe in discipline. I believe that whatever freedom we have is due to our own self-discipline. I'm doing my best to foster that in Bow. But it makes no sense to punish someone for what he cannot help. I apply exactly the same standards to human beings.

And this is why Bow and I no longer try to correct my  friend when she urges me to beat him within an inch of his life. We understand that she can't help it, and that we can't change her. We accept her the way she is, and we don't walk out on her. We don't cut her out of our lives. Just the way I don't walk out on Bow.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Stormy Weather

Bow hates stormy weather. Last night, around dinner time, we had a gale blow through. The sky grew dark quite suddenly, and the trees bent in the wind, and the rain came down as though it meant to flood the whole world. Bow started to rock back and forth, concerned. He always takes the weather much more seriously than I do. He almost refused to eat, but I told him that the storm was not putting us off our schedule, so he ate and rocked simultaneously for a while, until it died down. When the storm was over, he completely relaxed.

I wonder, sometimes, how Bow would do if he were on an island of his own. How would he deal with the weather? We used to go  outside a lot, on my property, on some other property that we have access to and even in the Missouri park system. Whenever there was dew on the ground, early in the morning, Bow refused to tread on it. He insisted on sitting on my shoulders or riding on my back. Of course, he was still a little one back then. If he had others, younger than he is, who were counting on him, would he take care of them? Would he put them first?

Leadership, ultimately, is more than bullying others into doing what you want. It is also taking responsibility for your decisions on behalf of others. I hope that Bow will be able to handle that challenge when it comes.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

In the Land of Plenty: Lost in Toyland

Yesterday I got an email from a person who works in a sanctuary offering to send Bow a case full of troll dolls. She had read about Bow's fascination with the "bottom wiper" and my stance on not letting him destroy it, and she got the impression that Bow was a poor underprivileged chimpanzee who simply didn't have enough toys. I wrote her back and thanked her, and I told that actually Bow has tons of toys, but what he values above material objects is companionship: both of the human and the chimpanzee kind. It would be great if instead of offering to send us dolls, the sanctuary people allowed Bow to talk to other chimps on Skype. It would be even better, if they allowed him to have contact with a female chimpanzee of appropriate age and habits.

Re-reading my post, I realize that maybe I gave the wrong impression, so I'll try to correct it here. My stance about not destroying the bottom wiper is not all about money. If I gave the impression that all I was lacking was Federal funding, and then I'd act like all the other researchers, I'm sorry.  I didn't mean it that way. The reason I even mentioned the Federal funding is because I think it corrupts researchers as well as chimpanzees. It's not really all that different from what welfare money can do to some families. And in the same way, it's a little like what well meaning grandmothers sometimes do to a parent's attempts at teaching a growing child values that will enable him to live in the real world.

What should you do when a child destroys a toy? Should you immediately reward him with another toy?  Or should you let the natural consequences sink in? Ultimately, which response is better for the child?

Bow has had a wealth of toys since I adopted him when he was a month old. At first he had free run of the house, and he even sometimes played with Sword's toys as well as his own. He had a brown teddy bear that he took everywhere in the house with him, and a pink easter bunny that rode in the car with him, so that he would not feel all alone in his car seat, while I was driving. So long as he needed these security objects, he took really good care of them, so that while he destroyed every other toy he was given, these two remained intact. But with time, Bow outgrew the need for security objects, and as soon as he didn't need them anymore, he tore them up.

Bow is now eight and a half years old. He has toys, but he prefers people. He constantly asks me when I am going to get him a girl friend. He loves playing and tickling and posturing and wrestling, and Lawrence and I oblige him. He can ask for any of his toys, and as long as he is playing nicely, he can keep them. But the  moment he starts getting destructive, the toy is put away. Nevertheless, every birthday and every Christmas he gets new toys, which he keeps with him for a while, before he destroys them completely and fills the pen with their debris. There is always an opportunity not to do so, and it's not as if he doesn't get plenty of second and third chances.

The fascination with the bottom wiper is not so much that is a rubber toy, as that it is a forbidden object. Bow gets a real kick out of out-smarting me and getting to play with the wiper for a while until I notice. If it were not forbidden, it wouldn't be any fun. And the moment it stopped being fun, he'd destroy it. When Bow plays this game with the bottom wiper, he's really playing a mind-game with me. He's practicing his politics. He's honing his leadership skills. He's showing his mind-reading abilities. It's not the physical object that has this allure. It's my attitude toward the object.

Nevertheless, I do see the fact that he agrees to put the bottom wiper back when I ask him to as a great improvement in Bow's self discipline. I find it an optimistic sign that Bow is capable of self-control, and that he can learn to conserve objects in his environment. When he grows up, he may have a peach orchard that he needs to protect. If he learns not to destroy the trees, but only to pick the fruit, this will a great stride toward self-reliance.

The lady from the sanctuary tells me that she knows a female chimp who is very kind to her troll dolls, and who cares for one of them as if it were a baby, carrying it on her back everywhere with her. I don't know how old that female is, but I imagine that when the time comes, she would much rather carry her own, real live baby on her back than a plastic toy. Bow is just dying to make that  dream come true for her!

Let's hope that we can cut through all the red tape and make this happen some day soon.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"That guy is very smart!"

When a repair person comes to call, there is a procedure that we go through at Project Bow. Before we discuss the matter at hand, before we show him the problem, before he ever sets foot inside any part of the inner sanctum that is the pen system, the newcomer has to say hi to Bow. They are introduced, through the grid of the outer door. Bow has to smell the person's breath and attempt to engage them in a game of jumping up and down or chase. Only after this preliminary step may we go deeper into the pens and attend to the problem.

It's just a matter of personal courtesy, of etiquette. This is Bow's home. You don't go into someone's home and look all around and make comments about them and ignore the fact that they are there. You would not like it if someone did this to you, and Bow feels the same way.

Last week, it was plumbers. Bow's big toilet stopped flushing, and it took a team of two plumbers to figure out that it was the batteries that needed changing, and where the batteries were, and how to remove them. I introduced the first plumber to Bow, and all was well, but unfortunately nobody told me there was going to be second plumber.  I left to run errands while Lawrence watched Bow, and when I returned, and I was putting groceries away, I heard Bow screaming.

I went to see what was the matter. Bow was screaming at the second plumber, a chubby fellow we'd never seen before. Later, I asked Bow why screamed at the new plumber. He spelled: "He was bad."

"How do you know he was bad?"

"He asked why you have a chimpanzee. He's a bad man."

So this week, I stayed while the locksmith was here to estimate how much it would cost to replace our current locks with prison grade security locks. Bow is getting bigger, and our locks now seem flimsy, compared to his strength. The locksmith was very open minded, and he talked with Bow for some time, before going in. He even played chase. He said that Bow was obviously very intelligent, and the current locks were no match for Bow's strength. The new locks would not only be stronger, they would be "pick proof", which is good because Bow might one day decide to pick the lock, and he's certainly bright enough to do so.

After the locksmith left, Bow told me: "That guy is very smart!"

Monday, September 13, 2010

Residual Effects of Having a Bottom Wiper

It has been nearly a week since we adopted the rubber lint brush as what Bow calls our "bottom wiper." You are probably dying to know how this has been working out. Well, Bow's bottom is not any cleaner, but there are other unexpected residual effects. There have been fewer serious disciplinary infractions, but a lot more lighter misdeeds involving the lint brush.

This is how it works: the lint brush is to remain next to the potty or on top of the seat at all times except when Bow is using the potty. Its one and only use is as an aid to hygiene.

So what does Bow do? He honors the rule, except when I am not looking -- the way he honors all rules. I can be right there in the pen across the glass, checking my email or just sorting through general hubtivity, and as long as I am not too engaged by what I am doing, and I cast an eye Bow's way every minute or so, the bottom wiper remains in its place. But if I should become engrossed in something -- a new hub I am writing, a poem I am translating, a heated discussion about the nature of language on Funknet -- then Bow senses it at once, and he very stealthily and quietly removes the bottom wiper from its station and starts playing with it. At first he is very gentle and very quiet, but if he sees that I still haven't noticed, he starts being rough with it, beating it against the cement, and chewing on it and grunting loudly till he gets my attention. I look over to where he is, and I am horrified that he has broken the rules. "Bow, put that back --now!" I growl at him.

Bow, like the little angel that he is, complies immediately, but takes his time about it. He suddenly begins to act as if the rubber lint brush is made of glass, and he carries it gently cupped in one hand, and deposits it very carefully on the seat of the toilet, reluctant to let go of it.

"Okay. Fine, Leave it there." He slowly backs away. I see that all is well. Bow lounges about lazily on the floor, not even looking at the coveted bottom wiper. But as soon as I go back to work on the computer and have really forgotten my surroundings, the whole thing starts all over again.  This process can keep Bow entertained for hours, and as a result, he does not break any other rules, like the ones about not peeing on the floor.

You might be thinking at this point: Aya, why be so petty? Why not let him play freely with the rubber lint brush? How much does it cost? What harm could really come of it?

Well, I'll tell you exactly what would happen if I gave Bow the lint brush as a toy for him to play with without close supervision. At first he would be gentle, then he would get rougher, and in less than a day, tops, the floor would be strewn with tiny, tiny particles of rubber, and the lint brush would be no more. It has happened with every toy that I let him have and did not quickly take away since he was old enough to bite. (A few stuffed animals survived as long as they served as people surrogates, but were destroyed as soon as his need for such comfort was outgrown.)

Every blanket he was allowed to keep with him throughout the day was torn to shreds in about a week. That's why he only gets his bedding at night.

A fellow primatologist suggested to me that I let him destroy objects to his heart's content, until he outgrows the need to do so. But she has money from the Federal government, and I have to make do with what I've got and make it last. I have to teach Bow that actions have consequences, because we are all of us dependent on using resources wisely.

So, even though I recognize that the rule about the potty brush seems rather petty, I need that rule. And besides that, Bow is behaving somewhat better thanks to this rule!

A reader of the Inverted-A Horn once wrote in that she thought society needed stupid rules (don't drive over the speed limit, don't cross the street when the sign says DON'T WALK, don't go outside without clothing) because certain people have an impulsive need to break rules, and we need to supply them with stupid rules to break, so that they won't break the really important ones like "do not steal, rape or murder". I never agreed with her, but this certainly seems to work with Bow.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Concord Grapes for Breakfast

I served Concord grapes for breakfast. Big mistake. You would think Bow would enjoy a change from the usual green or red table grapes. But no! They have seeds.   He won't eat them. He goes without eating breakfast and is planning on being grouchy and impossible to deal with for the rest of the day.

Where is it written that a common chimpanzee has to have seedless grapes every morning? Why does he think this is worth ruining the day over?

"Bow, aren't you hungry? Why won't you eat your grapes?"

He spells: "They are so very bad!"

Thursday, September 9, 2010

"Good that you bought a bottom wiper!"

I am on a self-reliance campaign with Bow. The first thing he needs to start doing for himself is wiping his own bottom. Now, the truth is, he's made attempts in that direction before. He likes tissue papers, and tries to wipe his own nose and bottom with them, but then he tears them up, scatters bits of them, and eventually eats some of what is left. So toilet paper and tissues are right out. He can't be left with access to them when not directly supervised.

Other things Bow has done, when he used the potty when I had to step out for a moment is to try to wipe himself on the rim of the potty and the grid of his cage. The rim of the potty is okay. I have to clean that, anyway. But the grid of the cage is not okay. It's a no-no and earns a punishment.

In a recent trip to Wal*Mart, I found something that I thought might help. It's a rubber lint brush. It's very soft and feels nice against the skin. It would not cause abrasions if rubbed against a dirty bottom. It has these tiny little bristles that collapse when pressured, and it can pick up even small particles of dirt. And on top of that., it's fully washable and will not collect bacteria. (At least, that's what it says on the packaging.)

Today, I introduced it to Bow. At first he wanted to play with it, but I insisted it needed to stay next to the potty. The first time he had a bowel movement, I wiped him with tissue, but finished off with lint brush. It felt nice. It didn't hurt Bow. He liked it.

After I was done cleaning up, Bow took me to the glass partition and spelled: "Good that you bought a bottom wiper!"

I'm glad he approves. The next step will be to get him to use it unassisted.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Bow doesn't like me to go far. He knows that he's not in any danger of abandonment, but he wants to control my comings and goings. On Monday, which was Labor Day, while Lawrence was watching Bow, I took Sword to the mall, nearly a two hour drive away. Bow knew that we would not be back for lunch.

I had no sooner left the house than Bow chose to pee on the floor in several different locations, clearly not an accident. Lawrence disciplined Bow, cleaned up, and then, after they were reconciled, asked Bow why he did it. Bow spelled: "I don't want Mommy to go far."

He's eight and a half years old. I was back by 3:30 pm. Even though we went farther than our usual range, he was not left alone, and I came back soon, way before dinner time. How do I teach my son self-reliance? How do I get him to pull his fair share? How do I make sure that when I am gone someday, he will be able to care for himself and his dependents?

Many primatologists are out in the field trying to protect chimpanzees from human encroachment. One of the dangers for chimpanzees in the wild are the snares set by the bushmeat traders. Some workers in the field try to help by locating snares and de-activating them. Still, many chimpanzees are maimed by the snares.

One group of chimps is taking care of the problem themselves. See the link here. The chimpanzees of Bossou, Guinea have developed their own method of finding and de-activating the snares. As a result, this group of chimpanzees suffers fewer snare-related injuries. In the fight for survival, my money is on them, rather than the chimps who are waiting for do-gooder humans to take care of this problem for them.

I want Bow to be self-reliant. He needs to understand that the majority of people who are "trying to help" do more harm than good. Everybody's got some kind of axe to grind. One group of "pro-chimpanzee" activists are preaching vegetarianism to their followers, even though chimpanzees are clearly not vegetarian. Almost all "pro-chimp" activists want chimpanzees in sanctuaries, where they will not be allowed to start a family. There is a conflict between human populations in Africa and the chimpanzee populations that are vying for the same territories and the same ecological niche. We have killed all the other hominids. Can we expect anything better for chimpanzees?

If chimpanzees can learn to de-activate snares, couldn't they also learn to do something productive? Would it be so terrible if instead of raiding human gardens, they traded with humans for goods and services? That's what I want for Bow. But the first step in self-reliance has to be taking responsibility for your own actions. I'm still waiting for Bow to show some sign that he's willing to do that.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Watching A Boxing Match

Yesterday, Bow and I watched a boxing match on YouTube. This is not my normal viewing, but a comment from one of my readers on Hubpages sent me there, and the moment it started, Bow got very, very excited. He insisted that I bring him with me to the other side of the glass, so that he could watch more closely. He was fixated on the screen the whole time it was on. After it was over, we went back to his side of the glass, and he took me by the hand and spelled:

"Every dummy tries to kill."

This surprised me very much. First of all, it was a very civilized boxing match. Nobody killed anybody. There was a referee who kept stopping them every couple of minutes. In the end, the winner was declared and the combatants shook hands and embraced. What made Bow think of killing? And is this really what he thinks about killing?

"You don't want to kill?" I asked him.

"No," he replied.

Is that the truth? Or is that what he wants me to think? Is he worried, because he's heard me talking about chimpanzees and aggression?

But all I could do was reply: "Okay, Bow."

He may not want to kill, but he certainly is interested in hand to hand combat!