Friday, February 26, 2010

Chimps/bonobos and humans: Primate relations on Radiolab

Thanks to a snow storm, I'm stuck at the airport in Erie, PA. Its a small airport - but at least they provide free wi-fi. So on this snowy day, check out this riveting and touching episode of Radiolab titled, Lucy. Although much of the focus is on our primate cousins, I was struck by the incredible efforts of some of the homosapiens involved here (just to be sure, the most disappointing component is also associated with this species of upright apes). Also, there is an interesting depiction of Lucy as being stranded in between species. Absolutely wonderful episode - though be prepared to also shed a tear or two. There are three parts to the episode, and all are very good. Here are the details:


Our hour begins with a tale from Dr. Barbara Smuts. She recounts a classic bully story, but with a twist: her bully was a chimp.

Next up: the haunting epic of Lucy the chimpanzee. When Lucy was only two days old, she was adopted by psychologist Dr. Maurice K. Temerlin and his wife Jane. The Temerlins wondered, if given the right environment, how human could Lucy become? We hear from Lucy's language tutor, Dr. Roger Fouts, Lucy's caretaker and eventual friend, Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, and Mr. Temerlin himself... or his words anyway, read by radio host David Garland. And writer Charles Siebert helps us to make sense of Lucy's story. Check out this slideshow of Lucy's life, including the photo snapped as Janis and Lucy hugged in Gambia:

Lucy from Radiolab on Vimeo.

Lucy, the epilogue

After the experiments and after the press, what happened to Lucy? Janis Carter tells us firsthand how it ended.


Though the Lucy experiment would largely be called a failure, could there be a way to re-do it... but better? Producer Soren Wheeler visits The Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa, to meet Kanzi the bonobo. Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh uses lessons learned from her time with Lucy in her current research with great apes, and Bill Fields explains the basics of bonobo-human communication, and ruminates on the differences between bonobo culture and our own, as illustrated by a swift and painful bite to his hand.

Okay - I'm a bit skeptical of bonobo English - nevertheless this is tantalizing. Furthermore, it is incredible that Kanzi apologized after 8 months!

On the other side, the story of Lucy also reminded me of the case of pet chimpanzee who mauled a woman in Stamford, Connecticut last year. Also check out here about the trauma of officer who shot the chimp.

While we are looking at chimp communication, also check out this sci-fi story by Robert Silverberg, The Pope of the Chimps (I had also linked to it a few years ago for another post: Chimps can count).

Okay, I couldn't resist. I had to find a reason to put this parody of Werner Herzog (you will appreciate it more if you have seen Werner Herzog documentaries, such as the brilliant film from 2005, Grizzly Man). Here is Werner Herzog reads Curious George:


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