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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Is our Territory Big Enough?

I have been getting some odd comments lately on my videos. One woman stated that I should not be allowed to have any more chimpanzees, because my house is not big enough. Well, it's true. I live in a fairly modest house. Many people who are not wealthy do. But when they are planning to add to their family, do people tell them they have barely enough room for themselves, so there's not room enough for another soul?

Just sitting and talking
Look at the picture above, where Bow and I are just sitting and talking. There would certainly be room for another chimp or another human to the right or to the left of us. It's not so crowded nor so small that we could not accommodate another soul. The question  -- as it is with humans --is whether that other soul is compatible or not with us. A female who accepted Bow's friendship would not have trouble living happily in the same shared space with him. A male who wanted to challenge his territorial rights might be a problem. No matter how big the range, there is only room for one dominant individual. But where everyone is at peace and there is agreement on who that is, there might be room for an entire family. It's the same reason you don't have room for strangers to live in your house, but you do have room to accommodate extra family members and friends who are in harmony with you and need a place to crash.

My daughter is going off to college in the fall. We have been looking at diagrams of dorm rooms.They are so small! She is expected to share a tiny, tiny space, much smaller than Bow's system of pens, with another student -- a complete stranger. Under such circumstances, it matters immensely who in particular that stranger turns out to be.

Of course, the saving grace in the college dorm situation is that you don't have to spend every waking hour in the dorm room. But that's why I want to turn the five acre pasture I have into an island for Bow and his potential companions.

Five acres of nature preserve is not enough to sustain a chimpanzee in terms of foraging for a living. But if that chimpanzee is well provisioned from the modern grocery store, as Bow is, then having five acres to roam in might provide sufficient Lebensraum. It might not be necessary to invade neighboring territory just to feel able to breathe free and stretch one's legs. Right now, Bow has access to the outer pen, but of course I want more for him.

Why does Bow have to be limited to the outer pen? You might as well also ask why my dogs have to be fenced in. When the neighbors' dogs and chickens have free run of my entire ten acres, why are my own animals so limited in their freedom?

I am okay with the neighbors' livestock occasionally showing up on my land. I am a fairly tolerant person. But I feel that if my dogs or my chimpanzee ever set foot on the adjoining property, the situation might not be as friendly. I think they might end up getting shot. Maybe this is because I am overly cautious. In the not-so-distant past, there have been chimpanzees who wandered freely in small towns in Missouri, and the neighbors were amazingly tolerant. I remember hearing of a home invasion that reminded me of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Here is how I told this story on a different site that has since gone defunct:

Cherry Pie Filling

Before I adopted Bow, I spoke with other people who had chimpanzees, in order to find out what I could expect as he got older and matured. One woman, who is a pioneer in raising chimpanzees, told me this story which I am about to share with you.

She has since raised countless chimpanzees, but the story I am about to tell is one she told me about the very first one she had, a male whom she raised as if he were her own child. The story takes place when the chimp was past puberty and prone to roaming. And in those days, it was possible to keep a chimpanzee in your home without locking him up. And this particular chimp was big and bulky and had a taste for sweets. His favorite thing in the world was cherry pie filling.

One evening, the neighbors heard strange sounds coming from their kitchen. They peered in, and this is what they saw. A chimp was seated at their table, with an open can of cherry pie filling, and he was eating it with a spoon, completely oblivious to the fact that it wasn't his house, his table, his chair, his spoon or his cherry pie filling. Beside him was the can opener that he had found while rummaging through the drawers of his neighbors and had used to open the can of cherry pie filling.

The neighbors could have been incensed. They could have called the police. They could have taken out their shotgun and killed the intruder. But instead they laughed, picked up the phone and called my friend to come pick up her naughty chimpanzee who had broken into their house to steal their cherry pie filling.

It was several decades ago when that happened. Today, we can't count on having such understanding neighbors. We cannot allow our chimpanzees to roam free, because people are afraid and will shoot them or call the police, and the police will shoot them. That's why I built the pens to house Bow, when I realized I could no longer control where he went and what he did there.

When people ask me why I have Bow locked up, I tell them the cherry pie filling story. It's not that chimpanzees are necessarily violent or bad. But they don't quite respect property rights, and there is no way to trust them around somebody else's cherry pie filling. And because we live in a world with so much mistrust, the safest thing to do is to keep our chimps to ourselves, rather than sharing them with the neighbors.

I want Bow to be able to roam, but I am realistic about it. I can have a sense of humor about my neighbors' chickens on my land. After all, they are only stealing insects from my lawn, and I have no use for those insects, anyway. But the neighbors would not  be able to see the humor in it if Bow showed up on their land or tried to borrow something from their cupboard,

Then why not send Bow to a sanctuary, where he can have access to more land and to mates? Because the sanctuaries I know of  would not allow Bow to roam freely and would not allow him to reproduce and would not allow him to choose who he wants for a roommate. And they would never let him see me ever again. He would not be better off there.

It takes seventy thousand dollars a year to provide for a chimpanzee in a sanctuary. But Bow lives with me for much, much less, because I take no pay for my time with him. If you want to help Bow and other chimpanzees who might come to live with him, send me your donations, so I can build him that island on five acres and get him the chimpanzee companionship he desires. And write to your Congressman to demand that all the anti-chimpanzee laws and regulations be repealed. Because Bow can't have a girlfriend until they make it legal for American chimpanzees to breed again.

Our house and land, as modest as they are, are plenty big enough for us. We just need to be allowed to use all the space that we have as we see fit.


  1. This is great news! I wrote you a comment a few years ago asking why you don't build an enclosure around your land. At the time, you said that you couldn't afford it. I had actually been thinking about suggesting that Bow is better off else where unless you find a way to give a more fulfilling life. I'm very glad to see that you are now being proactive on this and are publicly sharing your thoughts on it.

    1. Thanks, Scott. There are still a number of legal as well as physical obstacles. Right now, with US Fish & Wildlife having declared American born chimpanzees as endangered, it is even harder than before. On the one hand, they do not allow breeding; on the other hand they forcibly ship isolated chimpanzees to sanctuaries where they will never be allowed to breed. I need help arranging for five of my ten acres to serve as safe island for chimpanzees, which is a technical challenge. But I also need help declaring that it is okay for breeding to occur there. I am hoping that all the red tape will be lifted soon as part of the general de-regulation that is planned by the current administration. Otherwise, it would not be legal for me to give Bow the companionship he craves. I am now part of a group of primatologists who are talking seriously about these issues. I cannot do all this alone. But I am reaching out to people who might help.