Monday, July 25, 2005

Chimp Haven

If I were a chimpanzee, I would want to retire to Chimp Haven. It is one of several "retirement communities" for former lab-subject and entertainment chimps, and the thought and work that have gone into the design and construction of the communities is striking: animal behaviorists, ASL specialists, veterinarians, caretakers, nutritionists. Finding a home for "retiring" chimps is relatively urgent, partly because very little medical research is done using chimps anymore--there was a big push to breed chimps for AIDS research, and then it was discovered that while chimpanzees can be infected, they very rarely sicken from the syndrome, and are therefore not particularly useful for research--and partly because, with increasing understanding of just how close to us (that is, humans) chimps are, the idea of simply warehousing them is no longer acceptable to the public.

Chimp Haven is taxpayer supported, though some of the retirement communities for chimps are privately run. It is, of course, a little bizarre to consider that Our Tax Dollars are supporting chimps in their declining years, at the same time when the Bush administration is hacking away at Social Security (to be fair, the funding for Chimp Haven was approved under Clinton; I'm sure, given the chance, Mr. Bush would insist on "privatization" of chimp retirement funds too).

I was particularly struck, reading the article, by the affection and knowledge of the people caring for the chimps. The behaviorists and caregivers talk about their charges much the same way teachers talk about the kids in their care:

"That guy Waylan,'' Noon said, pointing to an outsize male muscling his way toward us, then settling alongside a female named Dana, ''is the largest chimp I've ever known. And the sweetest. Waylan is very shy. Born in captivity. Didn't know how to be around other chimps. So when it was time to get Waylan to meet somebody, I said to myself, Who out of all these people can he meet? And I thought, Dana. She's 42, born in Africa, and she's so socially sophisticated. So nice. So I open the door to let them meet. Waylan's afraid. She climbs up and sits in the doorway. She looks at Waylan and literally takes his chin in her hand and lifts his face so he can look at her. That's Dana. She is the queen.''

When I wander off to the Old Writers' Home, I hope the director of Old Writer Socialization is as concerned for the way I settle in.


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