They occasionally signed a few words to each other, although Byrne had often said that sign language was irrelevant to their relationship. From time to time Byrne believed that their discussions, however they communicated, verged on the philosophical. It was as if Nim was questioning Byrne, asking him over and over, “Why am I here? Why am I locked in this cage?” Byrne had thought seriously about the answer to that question. He concluded that Nim was not asking to escape but making a more poignant comment on the injustice of his captivity. – from Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human
I have been without DSL for the last couple of days – according to the repairman it is because squirrels and telephone wires do not mix. The problem was fixed earlier today. In catching up one of the posts I noticed was an excellent post, by Sheril Kirshenbaum, on keeping chimpanzees as pets (I hope this post means Sheril is feeling better).
Sheril makes a number of good points and I wood like to look at a couple. Her first point is that chimps are wild animals that, increasingly, behave like wild animals as they get older. Chimp behavior is quite a bit different from human behavior and inevitably the two will come into conflict. Humans, as primates go, are under muscled compared to other primates. In theory this means that it takes more than one human to “control” a chimps behavior. In practice this means that by the time you realize you have a problem it’s too late. Part of the problem is that most people who get wild animals as pets really don’t a clue about their animals behavior and don’t pick up on the warning signs. All too frequently, as in the case Sheril mentions, the owners are lackadaisical in allowing others, with even less knowledge, to interact with their animal. Relatively innocuous ques, behavior that you or I take notice of, can be triggers for, for what we would consider problem behavior. Even on a less aggressive level a 60 pound chimp (at that weight they are already stronger than a human) holding on to your guest’s leg for life, dear life, is a serious problem. Not so much because of the holding as getting the chimp to let go. Those who truly understand the behavior of animals they love work in zoos or as conservation biologists (or similar professions) because they know that wild animals belong in the wild.
Sheril raises a more important point when she says:
And finally and most importantly, the pet trade is an international problem that threaten many species with extinction. Conservationists are trying to stop this trade in developing countries where people kill endangered wild animals to sell as pets at home and abroad.
This brings me to the quote I used to open this post. It is from a book I reviewed back in June. Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human is the heartbreaking story of a chimp that was used in the language experiments that were so popular in the late 1960’s and 1970’s. One of the major subtexts of the book is the way chimps are breed and sold in the US – a vile and despicable business – and in what happens when the owners can no longer control their chimps. I strongly recommend it.