Search This Blog

Sunday, September 24, 2017

What is Conservation? What is Wildlife?

Bow and I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth: the Missouri Ozarks. However, I am not a native of Missouri, and while Bow was born in this state, he is not a wild animal In Missouri, all the chimpanzees are domesticated, and none is subject to the Department of Conservation. But Bow still enjoys reading The Missouri Conservationist and looking at all the big, colorful pictures of Missouri wildlife that can be found within its covers.

"What is that book about?" my reader from Scotland asked when he saw Bow leafing through the Missouri Conservationist.  I answered: "It's not a book. It's a magazine about wildlife and the flora and fauna of Missouri, the state that Bow and I live in. It has pictures of the same kind of deer and the same kind of butterflies that lie just outside our front door." And that is really what it is. This issue featured Monarch butterflies and white tailed deer of the very sort that showed up in the last few entries in this blog.

Deer come almost right up to my front door. I go out to the meadow and each time I meet a different butterfly.

We don't really need to read the Missouri Conservationist to see these sights, but the Missouri Department of Conservation puts out the magazine, and Bow's friend Charla subscribes to it and brings Bow copies to read.

Another friend who saw the video of Bow flipping through the pages of the Missouri Conservationist had this to say: "Sorry Bow, no cute chimps (other than you) in the Ozarks."  But that's not quite factual, so I replied: "There are actually quite a few here in Missouri, but they are, of course, not native wildlife." I meant that because all chimpanzee in the US are domesticated, they would naturally not pose for the Missouri Conservationist, the way the deer and the butterflies do. But my friend said she thought Bow was looking for girlie pictures. Well, that's what we have Harper's Bazaar for. But it's something that I am very thankful for that the Missouri Department of Conservation has shown no interest in our locally born and bred chimpanzees.

The same cannot be said for US Fish & Wildlife, who, by declaring that American domesticated chimpanzees are an endangered species, have opened the door for PETA to harass local breeders into giving up their chimps and sending them to sanctuaries where they will not be allowed to breed, based on the claim that the species is endangered. Attempts to get a declaratory judgment to say the Endangered Species Act does not apply have proved fruitless.

Right at the moment, I am very glad there are no pictures of chimpanzees in the Missouri Conservationist. At least our local government has not yet lost its mind. They know that conservation of Missouri wildlife only applies to Missouri wildlife, not exotics and not domesticated animals.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Cream Cheese, Butterflies and Bylaws

Over the weekend, my daughter came home and made some no-bake cheesecake. She even let Bow lick the bowl.

There was just one stipulation, that the bowl not touch the ground. So the little folding table was brought in to Bow's side

There was nothing about not putting his head inside the bowl, though.

It is a funny thing about rules: there are always ways around them, and there are always loopholes.

I was preoccupied with rules that weekend. There was a Bylaws Committee meeting in Kansas City, and I had sent in a proposal for a change in the rules. Of course, I could not go to attend the meeting, but it was going to be streamed on Facebook.  On Thursday the fourteenth, I was uploading a twelve minute explanation of the proposed change, but the internet was very slow that day. In Licking, the local paper's news room had no internet service all day.

It had started out as a foggy morning, but turned into very nice weather later on. Nature is just outside the door, and while things were uploading, I went out into the field, where I came across a very accessible Monarch butterfly.

Because it was still morning, the sun was in the east, casting my shadow on the butterfly as I drew closer.

The entire encounter did  not take long.

I should have been thinking about the Bylaws, but the butterflies in the field distracted me. There was a pipevine swallowtail, too, and it had a damaged wing.

At first I filmed the pipevine swallowtail from a distance, afraid to frighten it away.

But the swallowtail did not show fear when I came closer.

When I had had my fill of butterflies and was on my way back to the house, I noticed there were strange green seeds embedded in my pants.

I went back inside, but the twelve minute talk about the LP Bylaws was still uploading. All afternoon, it was still uploading. After a while I went back outside, and I saw a turtle.

As I came closer, it went back into its shell.

.My friend Pam estimates this turtle, who appears to have suffered a serious injury to its shell, might be over sixty years old. As I was returning to the house from the field, I saw a deer in the front yard.

I thought surely ,my twelve minute video would have uploaded by lunch, but it didn't.  It didn't upload until two pm. Bow had a some pickle ice as a snack about then.

The internet continued slow all that day. Bow's friend Charla came with the bananas, and Bow had a nice time socializing with her. In the evening,  I was able to just catch the sunset after putting Bow to bed

The next day was very exciting. Sword came home for the weekend, and a man came to repair the lights in the pens. Bow was so excited, he is barely visible in this action shot of him flying through the air on his rope while the repairman was on the ladder.

And then there was the preparation by Sword of some thirty-odd no-bake cheesecakes, and Bow licking the bowl, while I remotely listened in on the Bylaws Committee meetings. That was quite a weekend!

 When Sword went back to college, we had leftover cream cheese, so I made blintzes.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Monarch and the Pipevine Swallowtail on a Thistle

There was a time when I suspected I had seen a Monarch butterfly on my property. and it flew circles around me very fast, so it was impossible to take its picture. In those days, all varieties of milkweed were flourishing on my property, and Great Spangled Fritillaries were quite common and accessible. But the Monarch was rare and elusive.

Yesterday, standing out in the field, in an area I like to call the meadow, where a variety of wildflowers bloom, I had no trouble at all spotting and filming and even taking still photos of a Monarch butterfly.

There were no Great Spangled Fritillaries in sight, and also no milkweed. In fact, the milkweed flowers this year were all eaten by deer, so that even when an expert on milkweed asked me to help him by gathering seed, I could not. The flowers were never given a chance to become seedpods. If milkweed is to continue to grow here, it will have to propagate from the root and not from seeds. This is the reality when the deer are this plentiful. But the side benefit is that there is relatively little poison ivy growing in the meadow, because the deer appear to have eaten it down, and they also left generous trails around the flowers, which allow me to walk unmolested among the flowers.

Yesterday, standing in the field and texting to a far away friend in California, I was able to see not only a Monarch, but also a Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly feeding side by side on a thistle plant.

The Pipevine Swallowtail was more flighty than the Monarch.

But when Swallowtail flew off, the friendly Monarch came and joined him, and the two continued feeding close together.

I have held Pipevine Swallowtails in my hand before. This is soon after they emerge as butterflies, when their wings are not yet dry, or after an injury. But when they are in their prime, they flutter so much that it is hard to get a good picture, because they are constantly flapping their wings.

They flap their wings so much even when hovering over a flower, that the closeups are a little blurry.

In any event, if there had been any doubt whatever that there are both Monarchs and Pipevine Swallowtails coexisting in my meadow, then this should set those doubts to rest. But sometimes it's not that no one believes you. Sometimes it's that they just don't care.

When I showed Bow my butterfly pictures yesterday, he quickly scrolled away from them, looking for pictures of himself, instead. In the same way, I don't actually believe any longer that if I could only "prove" that Bow can spell, it would make a big difference. Mankind is so transfixed by its own marvelous image, that most people, and especially those in the scientific community, would not look at proof that takes away from our stunning image.

But just when I thought that nobody was paying any  attention to my butterfly images, I got a comment from Scotland, about the thistle flower. "Wow! I didn't know that Scottish thistle grew in the USA!"

There was in fact another person locally who told me the thistle was an "invasive".  If so, good for it! Here is a song about the thistle that I like to listen to in my spare time.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Asking for a Rabbit

Yesterday after some time in the outer pen, Bow came in and asked for a rabbit . "תני לי ארנב "  "Give me a rabbit." A rabbit?? Usually he asks for a snack or a drink, but this time he wanted a rabbit. I went all over the house looking for one to give him. Finally I found this one, which had been a gift to me from Sword. (Bow has not wanted to play with stuffed animals in years.) I brought it in, explained it was mine, but he could play with it. He sniffed at it and threw it aside. He didn't want "a rabbit", after all. So I told him he had to pose with it, since I had gone to all the trouble to find it for him. And he understood and agreed to pose. Yes, these are posed shots. With Bow's cooperation!

Bow posed for a good long moment, giving me both  a nice en face pose and a profile.

To me, that was a proof of personal growth on Bow's part, in that he was willing to cooperate and hold the stuffed rabbit, even though he had lost interest in it and had no earthly use for it. It was not so much about language use as about cooperation. But then I posted the photos on Project Bow's Facebook page, and I got a lot of engagement. The questions were very interesting to me, for a number of reasons. So I will share some of these here, as well as my answers.

Someone asked whether I was trying to teach Bow the Hebrew word for rabbit. I answered that Bow already knew that. He already is fluent in Hebrew. Then they asked whether I wasn't using those letters on the glass to teach Hebrew. I explained the letters were for Bow to spell with, but he acquired both comprehension and production a long time ago, as well as literacy.

One person asked whether Bow was obsessed with rabbits, the way Koko is with cats. I had to admit that he was not. This was an unusual request on Bow's part. Somebody else asked whether Bow might have seen a wild rabbit and was asking for that. I said it was possible for Bow to see wild rabbits over the fence.  Then the first person asked whether perhaps Bow wanted meat, implying he might want  to eat a rabbit.  I answered that we were having chicken for dinner, and if Bow wanted meat, he knew how to ask for that.

Then somebody else asked a really interesting question: "Can chimps understand that the plush animal represents the real one, and is 'the same thing'?" I answered: "Bow is an enculturated chimpanzee, so what I know about him does not necessarily apply to other chimpanzee individuals. It also varies over the lifespan, as it does with humans. I believe that at this point in Bow's life, he associates photos, drawings and playthings shaped like rabbits with the word for rabbit, as well as live rabbits. He's 15 years old and literate."

All of that got me to thinking about the language-related implications of this incident, and also what I may not have gotten across to our audience very well before. First of all, Bow understood Hebrew and English long before he could read and write in those languages. He had total immersion since he was a month old. Here is a link to an article about that:

So what knowledge does Bow have about rabbits, real, imaginary and plush? When he was a baby, he had a stuffed rabbit.

Bow has seen rabbits outside, and I have also shown him video of rabbits I have seen outside, such as this one:

He has also seen the word for rabbit written and has had storybooks containing that word read to him, including my own In Case There's a Fox.

The word we normally use for rabbit in Hebrew is ארנב. While in many storybooks another word,  שפן is used, on the page shown above, both words appear. You can listen to me reading from the Bilingual Edition of the book to Bow in the video below.

Bow was following along on that page, and at just the right moment he pointed at the word for fox,  שועל just as I was saying it. It was one of those spontaneous events that just happened, and it might not be possible to get him to do it again. You can see that happen at 0:38 of the video above. It was a magical moment!

Of course, "fox"( שועל) is the more salient word in the book. But if Bow was following along closely enough to point to the words at the end of the verse as I said them, he probably was paying attention also when I read the word ארנב (rabbit).

So yes, Bow knows what a real rabbit is, he knows the spoken word for rabbit, and he knows how to spell that word.  And yes, he also knows that rabbits can be eaten, because he has seen our dog Teyman catching and eating them.

But we great apes in the Katz family have never had rabbit meat for dinner, so it is unlikely that Bow wanted to eat a rabbit. He identifies more with the primates in our family than with the canines, so he does not try to imtate the behavior of dogs, even when he understands it.

Are all chimpanzees just like Bow? Do they know what he knows? No. No more so than all human beings are just like me. Most humans do not know what I know. They live different lives, and each one has his own knowledge base, which may or may not overlap with mine.

Not all chimpanzees have the same experience with rabbits, with total immersion in Hebrew, or with literacy and picture books about rabbits. What Bow knows is what Bow has experienced. He knows all of those very different things can be referred to as ארנב because he has seen and heard this done many times before. This is true of all of us. You might as well ask whether every human being knows that rabbits, stuffed animals intended to represent rabbits, pictures and paintings of rabbits and the written word ארנב are associated. They do not all know it. It is not some kind of innate inheritance. Language is learned. Bow knows more about the way to represent the concept of a rabbit in Hebrew than anyone, human or chimp, who does not happen to know Hebrew.

All of the above is so obvious to me, that I sometimes forget that I need to explain it to other people. To me, what was so great was that Bow was willing for a moment to put aside his own desires so as to cooperate with me in taking those posed pictures.

Why is that so important? Because it is Bow's lack of cooperation in doing things just for show that is keeping me from proving what he knows and what he can do.

In a recent conversation with Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, she shared with me that the reason Kanzi was the superstar of all the bonobos she worked with is not that he was smarter than all the others. The others were very smart, too.  It's that Kanzi  was willing to take on the role of showing what he could do for the camera. He was patient. He was willing to do it slowly and more than once, and beyond what was reasonably interesting to him, just so that the humans filming the video could see.  This is something Bow and I need to work on.

Bow is very smart. But he does not like to do things just for show.