Search This Blog


Monday, October 31, 2016

Bow's Halloween Costume

When I first adopted Bow, the woman who brought him to me knew I was going to do ape language research, and she was concerned that maybe I was too serious and would miss all the fun moments that come with raising a baby chimpanzee. I assured her that I would be open to the joys of every single moment, and not just the educational ones.

Bow's nails painted for Halloween
By the same token, there are other people who don't take my research seriously and who think that I just wanted to "play with a chimpanzee". When they voice that opinion, they remind me quite a lot of the clucking married old ladies who expressed the same sort of opinion about my having my daughter on my own. "She just wanted a baby," they said, as if wanting a baby were a terrible reason for having a baby, or as if all the other matrons in the world had a much more serious child rearing goal than mine. I did want a baby. But I didn't "just" want a baby. I gave the matter much more serious thought than most parents.

What they were all really saying was: "You can't just go out and do that on your own, You need government approval." You need a certificate of some sort. For the sake of the child. For the sake of the chimp. For the sake of society.

The truth is that you can't be expected to do a good job raising a child, unless you actually want a child. All those serious, duty-bound matrons who will tell you everything they sacrificed for their children sometimes forget to actually enjoy their children, which can make the children feel like unwanted burdens. Whatever errors I have made along the way, I have always let my kids, both human and chimp, know how lucky I feel to have them in my life. I did not make sacrifices for them. I made sacrifices so I could have them, which is a totally different story. I consider them both to be treasures, not burdens.

Sword had her own Halloween party this year. And Bow and I are also celebrating, in our own way. Yesterday, rather than work on a costume, we painted nails together.

Bow loves to groom and be groomed. Painting nails is a kind of grooming. He enjoys the process. He understands how the nail polish is applied. He just has this uncontrollable urge to put things in his mouth. Other than that, his engagement in the process is complete.

This morning, the atmosphere was just right for Halloween.

Bow went outside into the outer pen, and before lying down on the bench rim, he admired his nails.

Then he came in, and we admired his nails some more.

No, Bow does not have a costume this year, because he does not like to wear clothes. But who needs clothes, when you can completely disguise yourself using a blanket?

Engaging in pretend is important to a child's development. Socializing with a chimpanzee is important to his mental health and development, too. But your motive for doing so can't be entirely out of some kind of altruistic self-sacrifice. That would ruin it for the chimp or for the child. That's why there has to be mutual benefit. It has to be good for both of us. We both have to enjoy the interaction.

Cross-fostering works in that way. I am not the only primatologist who practices it. But if you talk to official primatological organizations  --IPS, ASP -- then they will tell you they are against contact between humans and chimpanzees, and they refuse to accept research based on that kind of contact. This year, at the joint IPS/APS conference in Chicago, they boycotted research that involves cross-fostering. This was not directed exclusively at me. Many established researchers were barred from presenting their work. You won't hear about this in the news. But you can read about it here.

We are all being targeted right now, and I am one of the few who are speaking up. Chimpanzees benefit from human interaction. Even in Africa, it's the people who care about chimpanzees who are crucial to chimpanzee survival. Trying to minimize the importance of contact and relationships with humans does not help anyone.

That's a human being in with those adult chimpanzees in the picture from Liberia. The fact that he happens to be black does not change the situation. If those chimps did not have a relationship of trust with this person, their survival would be in jeopardy.

When will the establishment allow you to see that?


  1. Very nice read, Aya! I loved this statement: " I made sacrifices so I could have them, which is a totally different story."
    It reflects a perspective of 'owning' the relationship and taking responsibility for it.
    Excellent points too about the benefit of interactions with chimpanzees. With the increased loss of habitat and the more likely encounters with chimpanzees, it is important that people develop a deeper understanding into their behaviors and how we can co-exist also.
    Also enjoyed Bow's painted nails. ;-) Ha!

  2. Hi, Kathy. Glad you enjoyed the read! I knew you would understand.