Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Toying with Nature - Raising a 'human' chimp

  Toying with Nature

Lucy Temerlin – (1964-1987)

Before you read what I have to say, 
just take a moment to really look at this picture.

Lucy, a chimpanzee born in 1964, was raised by Maurice and Jane Temerlin. 

Soon after she was born, she was removed from the Institute for Primate Studies in Oklahoma and raised in the Temerlin's home.  They made every attempt to make her experience as 'human' as possible. This was the Temerlin’s intent and part of their grand experiment.

She learned to dress herself, eat at the table with a fork and knife, flip through magazines, make tea for guests and was eventually trained to use 140 language signs.  She also developed a liking for gin.  Having never been exposed to other chimps, she also enjoyed looking at pictures of humans more than her own species.  In every way, her species identity was erased. 

As she grew, she became stronger and more aggressive and the Temerlins were forced to take her to a chimpanzee rehabilitation center in Gambia.  She never fully acclimated to her new surroundings.  

A graduate student named Janis Carter worked with her for several years trying to assist her in her transition. During that time, Lucy appeared to be depressed and often signed the word ‘hurt’.   Janis eventually had to leave.  The photo above was taken after Janis had been gone for a year and returned for a visit.  Lucy greeted her on the beach, then turned and walked away with a group of other chimps.  Janis took this as a sign that Lucy had adjusted to her new life in Gambia.

One year later, Lucy was found dead having most likely been killed by poachers.  Because she was so trusting of humans, there is some thought that she may have approached the poachers instead of running away from them.

I heard this story on Radio Lab.  I would encourage you to listen to the whole story to get a better sense of all the dynamics at play.   

 I just can’t stop thinking about that photo. 

 Photo from Wikipedia:  Janis Carter saying goodbye to Lucy
at a Chimpanzee Rehab Center in Gambia

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