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Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Place Where We Can Meet

It would be nice for both Bow and me to meet other chimpanzees and other chimpanzee owners, but the question is how to do it, without losing control.

Because we are so territorial, Bow and I, allowing anyone in would involve resolving a lot of dominance issues. Entering someone else's territory would necessarily imply similar conflicts and resolutions.

We do this as humans many times a day. When we enter a new space, one that does not belong to us, we have to adjust our behavior. At home, we speak Hebrew. At school we speak English. Outside, we can be louder, but inside we must be more quiet. At so-and-so's house, children have to help with the dishes. At our house, they don't. At one friend's house, they say grace before eating. In another house, they eat standing up off paper plates while watching TV. Every new place requires learning a whole set of new behaviors. Will the lady of the house require us to help clear? Or alternatively, will she be offended if we set foot in her kitchen?

I have met people who don't realize their rules are not universal, their language is not the only one and their way of thinking is not necessarily dominant in other parts of the world. Some of those people can't help it, because they have never left home and have not been exposed to other ways of doing things. But I have been a world traveler, and I travel into another world every time I step out the front door or drive outside my own limited domain.

My whole life I have been negotiating borders, some visible and some quite invisible, but they are just as real and just as powerful, either way. Whoever has control of the territory gets to set the rules. And sometimes, very rarely. we even find a way to meet on neutral ground.

I have very rigid rules about what goes on in the pens, and all with an eye to giving Bow maximal freedom while maintaining order and cleanliness. I realize that other people have different rules for the chimpanzees in their establishment. The different rules are not necessarily bad. It is what works for them. What would not work is applying conflicting rules at the same time and place.

For instance, Bow uses the potty. Some people have their chimpanzees use the same toilet they use, and other people have mesh floors and treat chimpanzees as if they were animals incapable of being housebroken. Which is right? Well, whatever works for you in your own house. That's the point of live and let live.

The problems begin when people think they can dictate to others with the idea that there is only one right way to do things.  And that is one reason I have not consented to place Bow under the rule of a committee.

Centralized control of all the chimpanzees in the United States in just a few sanctuaries is a bad idea. In the wild, chimpanzees live in separate groups, and group membership is strictly delineated. Nature arranges it this way for a reason. A single territory cannot support an infinite number of chimpanzees. When separate groups are living in separate locations, even if one group should perish, another can survive. Disease and over-breeding are kept under control. Bad policies by one group do not have to spread to another.

This is also why humans do not live in uniform hives like bees, but every family is separate and apart and has its own set of rules, its own language, culture, religion and mores. And yet people can meet outside the home and talk to each other, despite how different and separate our households really are.

I sometimes think of how to make a neutral meeting place for chimpanzees. Bow might benefit from knowing others of his kind. I might benefit from comparing notes with others, too. One way is the virtual meetup, which I have mentioned before. Another, far more expensive, way would involve building a set of interlinked tunnels leading to a central location that is safe for chimps. They could meet on the island for socializing with their own in a place where only they set the rules. And then when they wanted to go home, they could each take the tunnel leading back to their own house, each with its own set of rules that only they know.

Rules and fences and borders serve an important purpose. We have stayed safe by making sure there were no encounters between individuals who don't understand or accept each other's conflicting rules. But there is always the possibility of meeting in the middle, as long as everyone is allowed to go home at the end of the day.

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