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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Chimpanzee and Human Locomotion

Here is a picture of Bow at rest this morning.

He spends many quiet moments just lounging on his blanket.

Here is a picture of Bow in action. He spends many powerful moments engaged in action outdoors.

Chimpanzees have a different way of moving from humans, a distinct gait and manner of locomotion.

Some scientists believe there is an evolutionary significance to this different mode of locomotion, so they do research about it.

Recently this was brought to my attention, because of that lawsuit which is ongoing in New York about chimpanzee personhood.

Chimpanzee locomotor energetics and the origin of human bipedalism

Is it okay to do research on chimpanzee locomotion? Sure. While it's not my topic of greatest interest, anything is a legitimate subject for study, and you never know when you start out what great new facts will be discovered or what ingenious applications there may be to those facts. For instance, there is one study that suggests common lower back pain problems in humans are related to the fact that their backs may have been "designed" for a different form of locomotion than the one they are currently using.

Persistent lower back pain and its origin in humans

In one of my comments to the earlier post on chimpanzees and personhood, I may have been premature in condemning the type of research performed on the chimpanzees in question. It really may not be all that bad, if they are given the chance to run and play and the energy outlay when they do so is measured by non-invasive means. It's easy to jump on the bandwagon of condemning something we know nothing about, and to the extent that I said anything like that, I would like to retract it. I know nothing about the research being done nor the conditions under which the chimpanzees live, and I do not feel the need to pass judgment on a situation I am ignorant of. The only thing I would add is: if the research is funded by the government, that needs to stop. This is not anything to do with the research, and everything to do with the rights of citizens to decide what to do with their own money.

I myself am a researcher. Many people think that research on ape language abilities in general is useless. Some question the value of my work in particular. That is all  right, though, because I am privately funded, and even if nothing of value is learned from my project, no other person was hurt in the process.

The video embedded below is the introduction to our Project Bow 2006 DVD. This video was made before we had our big language breakthrough with Bow in 2007. But it does show the living and working conditions under which Bow was raised, and it explains the philosophy behind the teaching method used for Project Bow.

In the video below you can see a brief clip from the spring of 2006 in which Sword and Bow play chase in a natural setting. Even though she got a head start, he always caught up with her pretty fast, despite his mode of locomotion -- or perhaps because of it!

As for Bow's treatment, even though I am more interested in language than locomotion, I have recorded lots of footage of Bow's locomotion as contrasted with that of my daughter.

The video embedded above was shot in December of 2006 on a 100 acre plot of land we were allowed to use. Bow could have gone anywhere, but he chose to stick very close to Sword. In fact, every time she ran off in a different direction, he ran after her to bring her back to within a few feet from me. Watching this video, we can see their vastly different modes of locomotion. But we can also see the attachment and affection between the two.

Some people equate any relationship between a chimpanzee and a human as slavery. Some think that research, no matter what the subject being investigated, is necessarily cruel. They are wrong about that. It does not take an expert to recognize cruelty when it happens or to see kindness when it occurs. How we treat others is quite evident even in the small gestures.


  1. Aya, I'm really enjoying the videos and pictures of Sword & Bow during their younger years, along with Bow's history. A bit retrospective these days? :-)

    1. Yeah, a little nostalgic, Kathy. But these videos really do illustrate the locomotion and the emotions involved.