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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Reflections on Mother's Day: Why Bow would not make a good mother

Today is Mother's Day. I will call my own mother this afternoon and we are going to have a nice talk. We sent her a card based on one of my flower snapshots, and a new photo of Sword and some chocolates. In the evening, Sword will turn off her cell phone and we will watch a movie together as mother and daughter, with the usual distractions of teenage life placed on hold.

For Bow and me in the pens, though, this is just another day.

Yesterday, I posted a couple of videos of Bow watching Leo's antics from the outer pen. Bow and Leo have a playful relationship, but in the video below, they are not playing together. Rather, Bow is watching  Leo try to catch something high up in the liquidambar tree, and Bow watches with interest, seemingly identifying with Leo the hunter.

I also posted a video of the kitten drinking milk.

The kitten is always glad to see me, but I can't offer it any kind of companionship, as I don't want it to form an attachment.

The kitten comes bounding my way every time I open the barn door, meowing mightily.

When it gets closer, I have to back up. That is one aggressive little kitten! It may only be looking for affection, but it will not take no for an answer!

Bow seems so non-chalant, meanwhile, in comparison, and very tolerant of Leo's antics.

As a result of this posting, one of the viewers on Youtube asked a reasonable question:

You know how KoKo the gorilla loves pet kittens? And there is a chimpanzee in a zoo that has a pet rabbit he takes care of... Have you ever thought abt trying that with Bow? A kitten or something that can be a buddy and something he can take care of? I am certainly not knowledgeable on primates like you's just something that crossed my mind while watching one of ur Bow videos. He is such a handsome and sweet-seeming chimp. Thanks for sharing glimpses of him. I always want the Bow videos to be longer. Lol. Thanks

The problem with the idea of getting Bow a kitten or puppy of his own to mother is this: Bow has absolutely no maternal instincts. He is not a nurturer. He is definitely sweet tempered and can be gentle, but his attitude toward helpless animals smaller than himself is not conducive toward their survival. Once or twice a tiny bird managed to get itself stranded in the outer pen. Bow tried to catch them, and before anyone could stop him, they were dead. Lawrence witnessed one of these encounters, and he thinks Bow did not actually kill the bird by swatting at it, but the bird must have died of a heart attack trying to get away from him. Bow just would not let up. He could not put himself in place of the bird and could not see how his actions were stressing it. To him, the bird was just a toy.

While I tried to bring Bow and Sword up as much as possible in the same way, they developed very differently, when it came to how they treated their stuffed animals and dolls. Sword and Bow were both given stuffed rabbits each at about the same age. Sword very early on started treating her rabbit as if it were a baby. Bow, on the other hand, used his big stuffed pink rabbit as a mother surrogate. In other words, if he was not hanging on to me or Sword for nurturing and support, he held on to the rabbit as if it were protecting him. But... as soon as he was old enough not to need a mother surrogate, he ripped the stuffed rabbit to shreds. He had several bears that met a similar end.

Both Bow and Sword were given dolls to play with. In fact, Bow saw how Sword played with her dolls long before he was old enough to do the same. But whereas Sword took on the mother role, when Bow was given a baby doll all his own as a present, he tore it apart limb from limb. Since the plastic doll was not soft, it had no value to him as a mother surrogate, and he did to it what he did to all his other hard toys, whether they were trucks, blocks or humans in effigy.

At the time, I was quite shocked by what Bow did to his first doll. But to him, it did not represent a person, the way it did to us. It was just a lifeless, hard plastic object. Nonetheless, it does show he had no desire to play at mothering. His relationship with our dog Teyman always involved very aggressive play. They had to be separated numerous times, because he teased her mercilessly, and she would get angry and try to bite him. In fact, she did bite him a couple of times. In one sense, it shows great restraint on Bow's part that he never tried to bite Teyman back. But there was no awareness on his part that maybe he should go easy on her, because she was smaller.

In the case of the other dogs that we adopted later, Brownie and Leo, Bow was never left unsupervised with them, and we felt it was safest for the dogs if they did not go in with Bow. Even when I tried to interest Bow in growing a pea plant, he resented the plant and the care I was lavishing on it, and eventually he killed it.

This does not mean that Bow is a bad person. He plays nicely with me and with Lawrence. But he has never done well with someone who is ranked lower than he is. He loves Sword, and they played together nicely when they were little, but that was when he looked up to her as a mother figure, older and wiser than himself. The moment he started thinking of himself as "a  big guy" and of her as a "just a girl", they could not be together in the same pen anymore.

This all sounds kind of sexist, I realize. However, I look at the facts, and those seem to be the facts about Bow. He was given every opportunity to show he could function well in a maternal role, but that does not seem to be his personal inclination. I think a scientific approach requires us to pay attention to facts.  Another chimpanzee might develop differently. I understand that some male chimpanzees are more nurturing than Bow is and that there is one known case of a male taking care of a motherless orphan. However, given what I know about Bow, I think if Bow had a baby of his own, his mate would do well to keep the infant from direct contact with its father during the first year of life. I have heard of male chimpanzees who tore a newborn limb from limb just because an inexperienced mother allowed them to handle the infant.

So the short answer is: Bow is not getting a kitten because it would not be fair to the kitten. As for the particular kitten currently on our property, I believe it already has a mother of its own, the mysterious Mother Cat who brings us gifts of dead grey catbirds.

Not everybody is cut out to be a mother. Recognizing Bow's strengths and limitations is one of the ways we make sure that Bow remains safe, happy and protected from the pitfalls of life in the outside world.  It is very important to have a realistic assessment rather than over-sentimentalizing what is another complex being with a view on life all his own.

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