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Next of Kin: Conversatio (Living Planet Book)by Roger Fouts
Synopses & Reviews
A Tale of Two Chimps
The first chimpanzee I ever knew was Curious George, the mischievous hero of the classic children's book written by H. A. Rey.
It was the late 1940s and I was a small boy. One night my mother read me the story about "a good little monkey" who is captured in Africa by "the man with the yellow hat." The mysterious man pops Curious George into a sack, puts him on a ship, and takes him to a big city far away.
Curious George feels sad to leave home. But he is soon having fun. He tries hard to be good, but he can't seem to help getting into trouble. "The naughty little monkey" winds up in prison. His friend, the man with the yellow hat, rescues him and puts him in a zoo, where the story ends happily: "What a nice place for George to live!"
"I loved this story. It never occurred to me to wonder why Curious George had to leave his home in the jungle, or who the man with the yellow hat was, or why he put George in a zoo. I was only a child.
As a child I also didn't realize that George was not a monkey at all but a chimpanzee. In fact, the book's author had once wanted to call his character Zozo the Chimp. Monkeys, for the most part, are small, narrow-bodied creatures who walk exclusively on all fours and sport tails for balancing. They are our distant evolutionary relatives. Curious George is clearly a chimpanzee: he has no tail, he sometimes runs on two legs, and his face is apelike, with its flat nose and protruding jaw. The chimpanzee is humankind's closest living relative and a member of the great ape family, which also includes gorillas and orangutans. An upright, two-hundred-pound adult chimpanzee resembles our earliest hominid ancestors more than any monkey.
Twenty years later, when I entered graduate school, I met another chimpanzee--a real chimpanzee. Her name was Washoe. She, too, had been abducted from the African jungle in this case to become part of the American space program. She, too, was an irrepressible bundle of mischief
Washoe the real chimpanzee was more fantastical than Curious George in one important respect: she learned how to talk with her hands using American Sign Language. Washoe was the first talking nonhuman, and in the wake of her accomplishment the ancient notion that humans are unique in their capacity for language was shaken forever.
But Washoe's use of language, quite remarkable enough in itself, was only the beginning. Those first signs initiated a lifelong conversation between two friends who happened to belong to different species. From the moment I first met Washoe our destinies became as intertwined as two clasped hands. This book chronicles that shared lifetime of joy and hardship, scientific breakthroughs and controversies.
How does one account for the extraordinary connection between humans and chimpanzees? The answer has to do, oddly enough, with the reason children love Curious George. Unlike other storybook animals, Curious George, the chimpanzee, was not anthropomorphized. Chimpanzee behavior really is like human behavior-there is no need to embellish it. Children identify with George's wonder at the world around him, his innocent need to wreak havoc, his thoughtful way of solving problems that creates even bigger problems, his delight in breaking rules and undermining authority figures, and his shame at being caught and punished. In short, children see themselves in Curious George. Little do they know that the Curious George character is no fantasy. The chimpanzee child really does think, feel, and rebel just like the human child.
Most children never discover this remarkable fact. They grow up and leave their storybook alter egos behind. I grew up and met Washoe.
Nothing was further from my own mind when I met Washoe in 1967 than humankind's relationship to other species. My future was mapped out in clear bold lines: I was going to pursue an exciting career in psychology working with children.
But then Washoe began talking. She took me on an amazing journey to a world where animals can think and feel-and can communicate those thoughts and feelings through language. Along the way I met dozens of other chimpanzees, each one as individualistic and expressive as Washoe herself. In the end I learned more about my own species than I ever dreamed possible: the nature of our intelligence, the origins of our language, the extent of our compassion, and the depths of our cruelty.
This is Washoe's story. I tell it to repay a lifelong debt to her and all the other chimpanzees who have touched my heart and opened my mind.
Curious George wasn't the only animal I knew as a young boy. I grew up on a farm where animals were a very important part of our family's life.
My closest animal companion was our dog, Brownie. Feisty and fiercely loyal, Brownie was a fixture of our household. She needed us and we needed her. In addition to guarding the house, she baby-sat the youngest kids in the fields during the harvest season.
One day I saw Brownie do something that shaped my view of animals forever. She saved my brother's life. It happened during cucumber-picking season when I was four years old. The whole family-my parents, six brothers, and one sister-had been out in the field all day working. Brownie had been watching over me and my nine-year-old brother, Ed, whenever he got tired of picking. By the time the sun was going down our Chevy flatbed was piled high with boxes of cucumbers. It was time to head home for dinner. Ed wanted to ride back on our older brother's bicycle, a big thing that he could barely control. My parents said OK and Ed headed out on the bike, chaperoned by Brownie. Twenty minutes later, the rest of us clambered onto the truck and left the field with my twenty-year-old brother, Bob, driving...
For 30 years Roger Fouts has pioneered communication with chimpanzees through sign language--beginning with a mischievous baby chimp named Washoe. This remarkable book describes Fout's odyssey from novice researcher to celebrity scientist to impassioned crusader for the rights of animals. Living and conversing with these sensitive creatures has given him a profound appreciation of what they can teach us about ourselves. It has also made Fouts an outspoken opponent of biomedical experimentation on chimpanzees. A voyage of scientific discovery and interspecies communication, this is a stirring tale of friendship, courage, and compassion that will change forever the way we view our biological--and spritual--next of kin.
In the tradition of "When Elephants Weep" comes the captivating story of the man who has made scientific history by talking to chimpanzees--man's closest biological relative. of photos.
Includes bibliographical references (p. -407) and index.
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