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Sunday, February 1, 2015

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Bow is about to turn thirteen this month. This is an important birthday. In prehistoric, Biblical and aboriginal cultures, when a boy turned thirteen, it meant he was ready to be a man. It's kind of true for chimpanzees, too.

One sign of Bow's maturity is his frequent displays. But another sign of maturity is that he can decide that he's displayed enough, and it is time to move on. When Bow is done with that, nothing that Leo contrives in order to re-ignite him is going to work. Bow has self-control.

After active exercise, many lazy hours are spent enjoying a nap in the sun. Bow is secure in the knowledge that his needs are provided for and that he is a valued member of the family.

Lately I have been reminiscing about how all this began.

Bow was a month old when he came to join our family. He was completely helpless at the time. In a few months, he learned to walk.

Early development in chimpanzees is much faster than in humans, and Bow has always been a natural gymnast.

Bow traveled with us to New Hampshire to attend a linguistics conference, and he has always been very affectionate, adventuresome, but careful not to fall into water.

When Bow moved into the pens, that is when he became most literate, and yet he never ceased to be part of the family. 

Because we depend in part on the sales of books, I encourage anyone who has a small child in the family and another child on the way to buy the story of how my daughter first met Bow. A new baby in the family -- human or not -- can be a big adjustment.

But did you know that you can help in other ways? If you follow the link to Amazon, you can vote down the negative "review" posted there by an animal rights activist. Commitment to a chimpanzee -- or to any other creature or person in your life -- means not abandoning them as they grow and develop and change through different stages. Not everyone is capable of that kind of commitment. Sometimes people who cannot commit try to make trouble for people who can.

Was that person's negative experience inevitable? What would be the most compassionate way to respond to those remarks? Sometimes I think I should write a book about potty training. How many people have failed to get through that one stage of development with their chimpanzee or their human child? How much unhappiness is still just a result of not being able to get over that one little hurdle? Would that poor reviewer have had a completely different experience with their own chimpanzee if only they had had a little guidance in that one area of life?

As it is, Bow is well trained, but he also has constant companionship. This means I have to be in the pens twelve hours a day to supervise, and he is never alone, because when I am not there, he has Lawrence. 

Sometimes people ask me how I can stand to be so cooped up. In fact, it was much harder at first, in 2007, when Bow first was confined,  than it is now, eight years later. I have grown used to our living arrangement, as has Bow, and we have found ways to accommodate each other's needs to not always be engaged in the same activity while spending our time together. Life in the pens is good. 


  1. I enjoyed watching some of the videos of Sword and Bow growing up together, Aya! I think you have done a nice job of documenting a lot of your research discoveries and they are just so interesting to me. You have spent so much time on this, and it takes a lot of dedication.
    I believe you have learned so much and know so much about it that you have a lot to contribute in the way of mentoring / teaching other chimpanzee researchers. I think your idea of writing a book on potty-training is a great one!

    1. Thanks, Kathy. Glad you enjoyed watching those old videos. They bring up a lot of memories for me, and for Bow, too. He likes watching them.

      I am half joking about the potty training book. It seems to me that's mostly a matter of common sense, and that I may not have any actual "scientific" contribution to make in that area. But I keep thinking about it, anyway, because when Bow became potty trained, that was also a big turning point linguistically for him.

    2. Aya, I think you don't realize just how much basic knowledge you have about raising chimpanzees and how valuable that might be to other researchers.
      I don't know everything about purple martins, but one of the things that I found is that even the smallest details that I considered should be "common sense", (ie, protecting nest boxes from predators) weren't so common after all and when I started sharing such things as that, many people started putting up predator guards that otherwise would not have.

    3. Hi, Kathy. I think you are right. I can see that you have a lot of specialized knowledge about purple martins that you acquired from doing rather than reading about it, and I have the same about interacting with chimpanzees from my time with Bow. But the question is where to offer it, for the right readership. Most ape language researchers don't share the day to day information about interacting with their subjects in scholarly publications, and what I share with the general public is unlikely to be read by serious researchers. So it's a question of finding the right venue to share the information.

    4. Yes, that is the challenge...I guess it depends on your goals as to how it should be shaped. For instance, you could make that part of the "Project Bow" site, with a special section dedicated to "what I've learned about raising a Chimpanzee". Or heck, how about a "A practical, real life how-to book on raising chimpanzees"... something like that.
      I don't know how big your potential audience would be (how many people raise chimps professionally and as pets).
      One of the places I share my blogposts is on the PMCA facebook page and the PMCA forum. Even with all the information the PMCA has on their page, they are still missing the 'practical application' of those methods in everyday real life.

  2. I enjoyed watching that first video of Bow's first day at home. Very nostalgic.

    1. Thanks, Julia. It does bring back the memories!