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Saturday, December 29, 2018

Grooming Videos Save the Day

You may have noticed that I have been writing in my blog here less and posting more and more videos on YouTube. There's a very simple reason for that: YouTube pays. This blog does not. But there are some things that you can say in a blog post that are harder to say in a video. I am primarily a writer, not a performer. So I will continue to blog, albeit not as often.

After I came home from my brief illness, I kept posting more and more videos on my main YouTube channel, and within a month, as I recovered my strength and stamina, I also regained my YouTube income. Here is the video I posted at the time I learned that monetization had been restored.

In February of 2018, with the advent of the new YouTube rules, I lost my monetization, because I did not have a thousand subscribers. I had many more than the required views and minutes watched, but I had not asked people to subscribe. I had no interest in my viewers, was not counting how many there were, and I was perfectly happy with the extra pocket money I was earning to pay for Bow's bananas.  But when they took all that away, I was really put out. I did not understand why I needed subscribers, when subscribers did not pay a subscription fee, and people can see exactly the same videos when they do not subscribe. But if that is what YouTube wanted, I figured I could probably get most of the people who were already watching to subscribe, if I asked them nicely. They would be doing it as a favor to me, because it's not as if they would be cut off from the videos if they didn't subscribe. This is why it felt like a slightly non-commercial transaction between me and my viewers. They were doing me a favor when they subscribed, because this was information they were handing over to Google, when they could just as easily watch incognito. For all I know, some of my most ardent viewers may still be unsubscribed.

After nine months of asking people to subscribe, I gained the required one thousand subscribers and got my monetization back. Now my channel is bringing in about fifteen times what it had brought in before. And right now, as I write this blog post, I have 4,582 subscribers. I got 3,126 of them in the last 28 days. Most of these subscribers like to watch "grooming videos". Most of them will never read a novel by me, much less a scientific article about ape language studies. For them, it is all just stimulus and response, grooming and ASMR. But luckily for me, I believe in the free market, and I feel no compunction about exploiting their interests, so that I can be free to pursue mine.

Thanks to my new subscribers, I was able to get Bow a new hammock and a new sleeping bag for Christmas, not to speak of a number of other items for Leo, Summer and the cockatiels.

Things are looking up. Julia Hanna and I have expanded our interview show to include important researchers, scientists and academics. We had a whole series with Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh.

Last night, we interviewed a linguist and author in Iran.

I feel very lucky to have as much freedom as I do to live as I want, despite the fact that many liberties have already disappeared from the American way of life. Though I do not understand YouTube or the reasons for its rules, I am happy right now with the deal they have offered me. In the coming year, I plan to continue working with Bow, while posting more and more interviews with leading thinkers, writers, scientists and academics. 

As for Bow, he is always happy as long as there is someone there to read him a story.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Bow has Personality!

Yesterday was Halloween. Bow and I celebrated in our own way. You can watch our Halloween special right here.

Watching this video, you might be asking yourself: is this really a chimpanzee who can spell out words? Is he really sixteen going on seventeen? Is he really an intelligent being? There are those who when they see too much playfulness or behavior that in a human we might associate with a lower IQ become even more skeptical about my claims about Bow's literacy.

However, language ability does not necessarily imply overall high IQ in humans. Literacy can also exist in the form of hyperlexia, implying excellence in decoding letters into sounds and patterns into words, without a high level of comprehension. Many humans I know who are perfectly normal use their language skills just to express their feelings or interact socially with others, without ever having to encode new information. They keep talking and talking, but all they are really communicating with all that hot air is how they feel at the moment or how they want to relate to another person. They can go their whole lives without expressing an original thought or comprehending an original thought expressed by someone else. That is all normal behavior for humans, and chimpanzees like Bow are not all that different.

Recently I was sick and was away from Bow for two days. He was in good hands, and people were taking care of him in my absence. When I got back, he was very gentle with me, grooming. He did not say anything at all about my illness. But one time, totally spontaneously, after a couple of days of my being back, he took my hand and spelled:  שתי דודות שמרו עלי      "Two ladies watched over me."

I think he just wanted me to know he had been well taken care of in my absence. There is nothing super deep about that, but it did touch my heart.

This morning, I noticed Bow had not yet used the potty. So I asked him if he needed to pee.
                                                                                                       ?אתה צריך לעשות פיפי
His answer tickled me: רק קצת  "Just a little."

This is not a deep interspecies communication moment. But that is how Bow uses language to express his personality.  He is not a needy person. He only needs to pee "just a little."

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Bow Can Talk

Bow prefers carbs

I haven't been blogging as much lately. Sometimes it seems as if everything that could possibly be said has already been said. I don't want to repeat myself. But then something happens that opens up a whole new reserve of the as-yet-unsaid. This morning I got a comment on one of my videos that did just that. "If only Bow could talk, I wonder what he would say." It was an innocent comment made on one of my more popular grooming videos. Ten thousand three hundred and twenty-four views. But none of them know Bow can talk. 

I wanted to shout out the truth. But instead I had to be polite. So I answered: "Bow does talk. He spells out words. You should definitely check out the information about this in the Project Bow DVD playlist.
You might also want to subscribe to my blog."

Project Bow was an ape language research project that I began in 2002. In 2007, when Bow was five years old, we had our big breakthrough. Bow began to spell out words to express what he wanted and what he was thinking. The Project Bow DVD playlist chronicles all of that. It takes about two hours to sit through it, but if you want to know about Bow's history and his language ability, then it is well worth your while.  Although those of us working directly with Bow knew that he was spelling and expressing himself -- in both Hebrew and English -- we could not prove it to the satisfaction of the scientific community. If you would like to understand why, here is an article you can read.

As my funding was cut, I remained with Bow twelve hours a day, but I could not afford interns and caretakers. In some ways, the past ten years have been very difficult. It's not because of Bow. Bow is a sweetheart. But just not having the help I needed meant that I often had to miss some of my daughter's functions at school and reduce my social interactions with other people. Bow and I became increasingly isolated.

I did have a chimp sitter named Lawrence for most of those years. Bow spelled in English to tell Lawrence what he wanted. He spelled in Hebrew to communicate with me. During those first years, Bow would tell me a lot of things. He gossiped about the neighbors. He made up tall tales. But then gradually, as he went through puberty, he became less talkative. He was more silent and subdued. He still told me what he wanted to eat and when he wanted his blanket and made an occasional sardonic comment about the mutability of things ("everyone dies"), but mostly he kept his thoughts to himself.

Part of it was just our extreme isolation. Nothing new ever seemed to happen, and with nothing to talk about, there was a lot more silence. Then one day, about a year ago, Lawrence had to move. His wife had died, and he was starting a new family, and he let me know he could no longer sit with Bow. So that made things even harder. For a whole year, I went without a sitter, only going out at night when Bow was asleep. I missed my daughter's move-in day to college, and recently I missed one of her choir concerts, because it was held during the day. Thankfully for technology, Bow and I were able to attend the concert via a livestream on my iPhone.

And then this summer my mother, who lives in a different state, said she was feeling weak and asked me to come visit her. At first I did not know what to do. In this current age of Animal Rights activists, and with Jane Goodall getting US Fish &Wildlife to declare domesticated chimpanzees an endangered species,  thereby activating the Endangered Species Act to allow strangers to bring lawsuits against chimp owners,  I knew I could not just advertise for a chimp sitter and take a complete stranger into my home. A friend of mine who had had a stranger volunteer to help her has gotten into all sorts of trouble with PETA, because the volunteer was a mole. I would rather stay put than risk putting myself and Bow in that position.

And so I spoke on the phone several times about taking a risk on a new caretaker, and I guess that Bow must have overheard me, and he must have been concerned about that risk.

Finally, I dared to ask a friend of Bow's who has been visiting with him once a week through the grid if she would be willing to train to sit for Bow. Bow liked her, and she liked Bow, and she does not believe in Animal Rights, only Animal Welfare, so she was a very good fit. Still, it was a risk I was taking. I must have reiterated that on the phone talking to my friends in English. Bow overheard.

The thing about Bow is he files everything away in his mind, and he never forgets. He may not say much, but he knows what he hears.

The new chimp sitter is named Jessica. Bow loves her. I trained her for a week. At first she went in for only an hour. Then two hours. Then three. Until we worked up to a whole day. Bow was well behaved with her, but at first he was reluctant to speak to her. She had to coax him to spell to her. But eventually, he told her what he wanted to eat, and when he wanted to go outside, and other very mundane things. And also, he spelled "she".  "What do you mean Bow?" Jessica asked him. Bow did not answer. But later when I asked him what he had meant by repeatedly spelling "she", he answered in Hebrew that he had meant אמא -- "Mommy."

So the day came when I had to leave for my mother's house. Bow knew I'd be gone for a week, and he seemed okay with it. Jessica kept in text and telephone contact with me, and Bow and I Facetimed a couple of times during the visit. Bow was doing well. He was asking for what he wanted. But every once in a while, for no particular reason, he spelled "risk." "What do you mean by risk, Bow?" Jessica would ask. But Bow never explained. He would just go back to his usual routine, only to spell "risk" again the next day.

A text exchange between me and Jessica

Bow liked Jessica a lot. He wanted to be on good terms with her. He used the potty regularly. and he even took the trouble to inform her when he had peed when she was out of the room. (He never bothers to tell me!) But he was also concerned about "risk". He understood that he and I were taking a risk by trusting Jessica. But he did not really know how to explain it to her.  So he just kept spelling risk.

And that problem he had spelling "peed" correctly? That's a perfectly normal language phenomenon for someone who is bilingual. When he refers to that in Hebrew, he says פיפי. In English, that would transliterate to /pipi/.  So naturally, he thought "I pid" would be a good way to spell "I peed." This is not proof that Bow can't spell, so much as that he has language, and he uses it dynamically.

If Bow could talk, what would he say? Well, he would talk about "risk" and "peeing". Like anyone, Bow has a wide range of things to talk about. Some subjects are mundane and others are very abstract.

Bow and Jessica

My mother turned out to be fine, and we had a nice visit. And now that I am back, Bow is a little more talkative. It helps to mix things up sometimes. You don't want to get stuck in a rut!


To support Project Bow, buy this book

Monday, July 16, 2018

Bow and Conservation

Bow is an avid reader of the Missouri Conservationist. 

He enjoys leafing through the entire magazine, but this time, he indicated clearly that his favorite part was a photo of a little girl who looked a little like Ping in Ping & the Snirkelly People and of a Monarch butterfly right in front of her face.

In the little yellow rectangle, an entire conservation strategy is outlined to help preserve the Monarch butterfly.

Why such an "aggressive goal"? And what do Monarchs have to do with pollination?

A Monarch caterpillar on my transplanted common milkweed

My own experience with the Monarch caterpillars this season have been a little disappointing. I did see several different caterpillars in different stages of their growth. But what I never got to see is any of those caterpillars turning into a chrysalis. And having missed that stage, I never saw a Monarch butterfly emerge.

As the caterpillars proceeded with their work and the purple milkweed flowers died and the leaves were left full of holes, I began to wonder about the great effort to reestablish milkweed so as to help the Monarch butterfly, and the total disregard for the wellbeing of the milkweed plant itself.

Purple milkweed does not seem to produce very many seed pods.  Last year mine produced no seed pods at all because somebody -- I don't know who -- ate all the flowers long before anything interesting could happen. This year, a single flower survived long enough to start growing one tiny seed pod.

But the seed pod did not arrive at maturity, because ants attacked it.

Both my milkweed and my Monarchs seem to be productive in the early stages of the procreative process -- flowers, caterpillars -- but not so productive in the later stages -- seed pod, chrysalis. Is this what is happening worldwide? Maybe not.

I have been following the blog of Anurag Agrawal, and he recently a posted an article of his about the decline of the Monarch population that came out in Science. You can look at the article here:

"Mechanisms behind the Monarch's Decline" refers to two independent sources of information about the Monarch population in North America.

One is a census of Monarchs that overwinter in Mexico.

And the other is the statistics kept by the North American Butterfly Association.

What Agrawal has found is that there is a mismatch between these two ways of counting total butterflies. Sometimes there is a resurgence of Monarchs in Canada and the United States, but by the time they get down to their over-wintering site in Mexico, the population is greatly reduced.

Loss of habitat for a migratory butterfly can happen anywhere along its migration. But Agrawal has stated that it is the migration, not the butterfly, that is currently endangered. Planting more milkweed in the United States and Canada is not going to help, if the forests in Mexico are being cut down. On the other hand, there are Monarchs in  warm places like parts of California that have a  more local migration, and they are fine. And there are Monarchs in Mexico that seem to be active all year round, without overwintering anywhere. Does the Monarch butterfly need our intervention on its behalf? And if so, why?

Tussock Moth Milkweed Caterpillar
It's not because they are pollinators. They're not. It is not for the sake of fruit orchards. It is not because of any unique contribution that the Monarch makes to our ecology that some other butterfly does not. It's because, for some reason, the Monarch has great PR, and there are people lobbying on its behalf.

Would anybody care about milkweed if not for Monarchs? There are other caterpillars that depend on milkweed, like the tussock moth
 caterpillar, but nobody seems to care much about them. So why the Monarch and why are state and Federal governments intervening on its behalf at taxpayer expense?

Ever since I first read Agrawal's book, Monarchs andMilkweed, I have been noticing some of the less popular milkweed eating insects.

Red Milkweed Beetle (Tetraopes Tetropthalmus)
The red milkweed beetle feeding on a defunct purple milkweed seed pod is so cute. Why doesn't it have a lobbyist in Washington?

Or how about the seed eating milkweed bugs? Why aren't there entire conservation movements built around them?
Milkweed Bug on Butterfly Milkweed

If we look at all this from the point of view of the milkweed plants, their survival strategy seems to be something like this:

  • Make yourself inedible by emitting a poison and a nasty latex.
  • Some bright insects will breach your defenses and make you their sole source of food in order to thwart predators.
  • When farmers start to eradicate you, because you are not good for cattle to feed on, get one of the insects that has managed to breach your defenses and can eat only you to be the poster child for pollinators, even though it's actually not a pollinator.
  • Get civic organizations to plant you profusely and governments to assure you acres and acres of protected growth.
  • If the poster child butterfly  is still being decimated by its cross country migration, just use this to get even more protection for the propagation of  yourself.
  • If, as  a result of being artificially boosted, you lose the ability to propagate naturally through the spread of seeds from seed pods, keep yourself procreating artificially as a domesticated plant.
Two identical butterflies on butterfly milkweed
The truth is that in this age of huge human populations, only those beings protected by us get to thrive. Domestication has a bad name, but if you insist that one plant -- rather than another-- has the right to exist, and that one species, rather than another, will be protected in a given environment, then you are in fact domesticating those species that you protect. Once natural selection ceases to be the main factor in their future adaptations, you will have to act as a cultivator to keep them alive. And when you do that,  you are not advocating natural balance. You will tend to create, instead, a sharp drop in diversity. Monocultures are what humans are famous for.

I love the many species of milkweed that I find growing wild on my land, and the many and varied butterflies that feed on their nectar delight me. But I would hate to think that these are not wildflowers at all, but part of a widespread plot to keep some species alive at taxpayer expense, while others die out.

Why does this matter to me? Because current efforts are afoot to end all breeding of chimpanzees in the United States. This is being done in the name of conservation. It's being done, because conservationists want to maintain only wild chimpanzees, and to eradicate all chimpanzees which have been domesticated.

But wild chimpanzees in Africa will not remain wild if they are protected. Once their natural predators are eliminated and their existence assured, they will change their ways of being.  And domesticated chimpanzees here in the US, which are privately owned, will never have a chance to live free, outside of zoos and sanctuaries.  Generations of Americans will grow up without the opportunity to meet a chimpanzee in a safe and mutually respectful environment.


When Sword Met Bow

Monday, June 4, 2018

Meeting the Monarch Caterpillar

Yesterday was a red letter day. I finally saw a monarch caterpillar with my very own eyes. My iPhone summarized the day in a short video.

For the majority of my YouTube following, it is the cozy moments with Bow that matter the most. Grooming together out in the sun is certainly a pleasant experience.

But because that is an everyday occurrence for me, I suppose I underplay it, whereas it is those rare glimpses of a butterfly or a moth that have me all a-flutter. For instance, on June 2nd, I spotted what seemed like a leaf, but it was moving in a way that made it seem alive

 I drew closer, and it turned out to be a very damaged polyphemus moth.

It was so fragile, so damaged and yet so beautiful!

So I posted the video on YouTube, because I thought it was exciting and poignant and rare, and I got eight views.  Eight views! But my last grooming video got over a thousand views. And for a moment I kind of felt as if my viewers were shallow. But then I realized: I'm lucky to have a personal relationship with Bow, and so I take it for granted. And there are so many people out there who are starving for contact with nonhuman apes. So it makes sense that for them Bow grooming me is the rare and wonderful thing. And I do value the contact with Bow, too. It's just that I am also amazed by the wildlife all around me. That's another gift that Project Bow has given me. I never saw so many butterflies until I was trapped here, with no hope of escape, just the way Bow is. It's when you can't go anywhere else that the true story all around you starts to unfold. 

And then there is the saga of the milkweed plants and the monarch butterflies. Last year I watched one milkweed plant as it went from closed buds to full bloom, and the next day it was gone. It took so very long to bloom, but I never saw a butterfly on it. Not once! And it was probably a deer that ate it. 

This year, everything has happened much faster. The first floret opened on June 2nd, and I almost did not notice it, because it was hidden under a leaf.

That evening there was a violent rainstorm. I went out the next morning to look at the purple milkweed, not knowing what I would find. And there it was!

They're supposed to be eating the leaves, not the flowers. But I would recognize it anywhere, even though I had never seen one in person before. It was a monarch caterpillar! A creature out of mythic past -- from a book I had read in first grade, when my reading ability exceeded my grasp of English!

Earlier this year I rediscovered the book, The Travels of Monarch X, and I read it to Bow.

Bow wasn't very interested, but that's okay, because when I first read that book, I wasn't very interested, either.  I wanted to grow up to be a giant gorilla, and I didn't care much about invertebrates. The story of how I learned English by total immersion in first grade is fictionalized in my children's book, Ping and the Snirkelly People. It is coming out at the end of the month on Audible, read by Evelyn Adams.

Order it now

Anyway, I was so excited yesterday to see my first monarch caterpillar that I took many photos of it.

But by the time I got back to the purple milkweed patch that afternoon, the caterpillar was long gone. I did see a beautiful eastern tailed-blue on the half open blossoms of another of the purple milkweed plants.

I incorporated both the butterfly and the caterpillar in a video that featured plenty of grooming, because you have to give the people what they want.

It's not that I don't enjoy being groomed, mind you. It always feels nice.

It's just that there are also other pleasures in life. And I enjoy sharing those as well.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Merry Month of May

May has been merry. I can't point to any big achievements, but things are moving in a good direction, and we are gaining momentum slowly.

As the weather grew warmer, Bow and I spent more and more time out of doors.

More time outdoors meant more grooming and more mowing the lawn.

While mowing the lawn, I discover butterflies hidden in the grass.

Other things come to my attention, like the common milkweed that I found growing in the lawn.

There were three such plants, and on the day the mowers came, I was going to ask them to transplant them to the flower garden by the lagoon. But when the mowers came, two of the plants were gone, roots and all! At first I was a little paranoid. Had someone followed me and stolen my milkweed before I had a chance to transplant it myself? But my gardener explained to me that it was probably an inside job, performed by moles who ate the milkweed root first, starting deep in the ground and working their way up to the leaves. Only the smallest milkweed plant remained, and after it was transplanted, it wilted and fainted all the way to ground.

The prognosis did not loo good, but I kept watering it. Meanwhile, I discovered a purple milkweed patch growing by some dogbane in the pasture.

This will be a great way to compare the growth and habits of dogbane and milkweed, I thought. But it wasn't only the plants that were starting to propagate. On Mother's Day, I discovered a new nest.

These were not robins' eggs, like the one I had seen in years past. These were brown and white, marbled.

I was looking forward to watching them hatch and seeing what sorts of birds they turned out to be, but the next day, the nest was empty. Is there somebody following me around and taking whatever I find? I wondered. But probably not. Probably it is just part of the grand scheme of things, where not every living being that sprouts or is conceived gets to make it past the very earliest stages. Being culled out is part of the system. Redundancy and wasted life are part of the grand design. There are so many, because not all are expected to make it. And still, despite it all, some do survive! I am glad of that.

I was very grateful to have Sword home for Mother's Day, and Bow enjoyed the gifts she brought, too.

How they both have grown! Soon a new Audible and Kindle version of When Sword Met Bow will be coming out, read by Kelly Clear. My time for raising babies is done, but this book can help the families that are just starting out to introduce a new baby to older siblings. .

When Sword Met Bow -- Order Here

My other children's book, Ping and the Snirkelly People will also soon be out, read by Evelyn Adams. It describes the process of acquiring a second language by total immersion.

Ping and the Snirkelly People -- Order Here
However, on most days right here in and around the pens, life unfolds more like my third children's book, In Case There's a Fox. Through daily walks I encounter various animals, and they don't always tell me what they are up to. I can ask the rabbits to let me now what the turtles are doing, but until I look down and notice the turtles, the rabbits will keep mum.

On May 15, I spotted a couple of rabbits behind the garage and moved in closer to take a look.

As I drew closer, one of the rabbits ran away, but I kept my focus on the other rabbit, still oblivious of the indistinct rock-like thing in the grass by the fence.

Would you believe that, even at this distance, I was so focused on the rabbit that I had no ideas there were turtles in the picture? The rabbit stood very still. I wonder what it was thinking. I'm guessing it knew all about the turtles in plain sight.

I kept coming in closer to get a better look at the rabbit, and it kept holding its ground, until the moment when it ran off. Then I noticed there were two turtles at my feet!

I've never seen anything quite like it. But it's not going into any children's book.

My friend, Pam Keyes. who is an expert on turtles, told me that the female of the pair is at least sixty years old. Male turtles prefer older females to mate with, because their offspring have a better chance to survive. We recognize this particular female by the BB gun hole in her shell.. I have decided to call her Beebee.

Later that day, I saw Beebee just outside the fence. I thought maybe she was scouting locations to lay her eggs. But it was a bit early for that yet.

The sagas of box turtles in love and rabbits keeping their secrets are mostly for my own amusement. For the regular viewers of my channel, Bow is the only star attraction. Our most popular video for this month was the one from May 18 of Bow grooming me, but stopping short of picking my nose, when I asked.

In the Missouri Ozarks, May is part of the rainy season. It rains day after day sometimes, and the lush vegetation is richer for it. It's not such a bad way of life. But Bow prefers that it never rain, so he can go sunbathing in the outer pen. Lately, though, he has been taking the weather mostly in his stride.

For several days it rained, with brief periods of respite in between  The video above is from May 19, when Bow went out between rainstorms and displayed at the wind -- without setting foot on the wet floor of the pen! After the rain, there was a bit of flooding, and small rivulets of water crossed the internal road on my property to get to the other side.

Beebee the turtle found a conveniently wet spot to dig a nest for her eggs. And the armadillos came out to play. There were so many bugs for them to feast on!

Although I wanted to immediately sit down and to report on Beebee the box turtle, seeing all those armadillos that very same day over and over again kept me distracted.

But the armadillos disappeared, after putting in a full day of appearance on the May 21st, and by Memorial Day they were long forgotten. We did have a nice encounter with several butterflies, instead.

The best part of May is hanging out in the great outdoors. And Bow, more than anyone else, knows how to hang out. He has it mastered!