Aug 19, 2010


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.


Charles Siebert, The Wauchula Woods Accord

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Announcers: You're listening to Radiolab from WNYC and NPR.

Jad Abumrad: All right.

Robert Krulwich: Let's start with an encounter.

Jad: Yes.

[phone ringing]

Lulu Miller: Hello?

Barbara Smuts: Hello.

Lulu: Okay, can you hear me okay?

Barbara: I can barely hear you.

Jad: This is our producer Lulu Miller, who's calling around trying to find some stories for this hour.

Lulu: Let's see.

Jad: She ended up on the phone with a woman named Barbara Smuts.

Lulu: Is that any better?

Barbara: Yes.

Robert: Barb Smuts is now with the University of Michigan but years ago she was a field researcher in Tanzania working with the great Jane Goodall-

Jad: -following chimps at a distance and writing down everything they do and that kind of thing.

Robert: When she was in Tanzania, she ran into, in Gombe National Park, a particularly young male chimp named Goblin.

Lulu: Will you tell me the story of Goblin?

Barbara: Sure.

Lulu: First of all, what does he look like?

Barbara: Well he's an adolescent male. If he stood up, he would come up to quite a bit above my waist. Almost immediately he started picking on me in the sense that he would walk past me and just jab me casually as he went by. Sometimes he would punch me with the fist, sometimes he would just whack me with an open hand or just use his body to just shove at me as he went past. He'd look at me as he approached and I'd be going, "Oh, no."

Lulu: Is that something they would often do with humans or was this rare?

Barbara: No. No, no. He was at the phase of life. As a male matures he rises in rank and before he challenges any other adult male, he rises step by step through the female hierarchy. He basically intimidates female after female until they give in and acknowledge that he's superior and then he'll pretty much leave them alone. He was at the point where he dominated all but probably two of the adult females.

Lulu: And you.

Barbara: And me. That's part of it, is where Goblin wasn't-- The other part of it is that I'm really small.

Lulu: As you're out there doing your research, what do you think is going on? Did you think he just-

Barbara: Well, I just felt like he was a bully and I was an easy target.

Lulu: Yes.

Barbara: In the evening I would say to Jane Goodall-- I'd tell her what happened, ask her what to do and she would say, "Just ignore him. Eventually, he'll get bored and he'll stop doing it." Which was this standard advice, this myth of total scientific objectivity. "Just ignore it and it'll go away," but instead, he escalated. I remember one time I was sitting at the top of a hill and he came up behind me and jumped on my back, which forced me to roll down the hill. He rolled down with me and we were like this ball rolling down the hill.

Again, I would tell Jane and ask her what to do and she would always say the same thing, "Just ignore it." But one day, it was the rainy season, we all carried raincoats with us and when it wasn't raining we would carry them on our backs so that it wasn't in the way. Goblin walked up to me one day and yanked on my raincoat. These raincoats they were our most valuable possession, the raincoat. He grabbed it and he was going to run away with it. We had this tug of war until the two of us were standing facing each other tugging on this raincoat. Then I did something that was not premeditated at all.

Lulu: Yes.

Barbara: I just leaned forward and I punched him as hard as I could in the face.

Lulu: Oh my God. What did you think right after you done it? Were you shocked at yourself that you just-

Barbara: Yes, I've never punched anybody before, much less a chimp who I was supposed to be studying from a distance. I was shaking.

Lulu: What did he do?

Barbara: He just collapsed. He turned into a little baby. He collapsed on the ground and started whimpering and then he looked to Figan, who was the alpha male at the time, who was sitting near-by. He was like Figan's little sidekick. He's always hanging out with Figan and playing up to him. He ran over to Figan screaming like, "This being just beat up on me. Come on, let's get her."

Fortunately, Figan did not take it seriously. I remember he just reached over with his great big hand and without even looking at Goblin he patted him on the head a few times and then went back to whatever he was doing. Because it could have been really bad if he had taken it seriously. I did not go back and tell Jane Goodall I had punched Goblin in the nose. I didn't tell the story for a long time.

Lulu: Why not?

Barbara: Well, I think I would have gotten a lot of disapproval.

Lulu: Yes.

Barbara: Anyway, Goblin never bothered me again.

Jad: Here's the reason we played that story because here you've got this moment where you've got a scientist Barbara Smuts, who's a trained scientist, got scientific rules of objectivity and all that and-

Robert: She totally loses it.

Jad: -she slips and for just that moment she's not really a human. He's not really a chimp. The raincoat is the only important thing.

Robert: The borders have dropped is really what's happened.

Jad: Yes. We're used to thinking of borders between us and the animals as being fixed. Most people would say, "This is good. Keep them there. Keep us here. Keep us separate."

Robert: But not in this hour.


Robert: We're going to meet people who decided to go the other way. People who are trying to live intimately and I mean really intimately with big wild animals.

Jad: Something you could either call incredibly stupid or our last great hope.

Robert: Because there so many of us on the planet.

Jad: Coming up, we've got two stories of radical experiments in sharing. I'm Jad Abumrad.

Robert: I'm Robert Krulwich.

Jad: This is Radiolab. Okay, story one. This whole show in a way began with a conversation with this fellow Charles Siebert.

Charles Siebert: I am an author and a journalist.

Jad: He wrote a book called The Wauchula Woods Accord which is a great book in which he tells a story, which he told us in the studio as well, about a chimpanzee named Lucy. Let's just start at the beginning. Who is Lucy?

Charles: Lucy is a chimpanzee that actually, well this was found out later, born to a circus entertainer, born in their camp.

Jad: What country are we in?

Charles: In the US. They traveled up and down the East Coast. The main old chimp ark show something like that. They were very popular in the '40s and '50s. They were wildly popular apparently.

Robert: This was a mom-and-pop entertainment operation that would go from town to town in the middle-Atlantic states?

Charles: Exactly.

Jad: Lucy was born to two of the chimps that performed in this thing?

Charles: Yes. They used to do things like-- they used to stage wrestling matches with human beings. The 'he-man' of the town would come in and challenge the chimp to a wrestling match.

Jad: Really. What would happen?

Charles: An adult chimpanzee is about five times the strength of a human and this guy would walk in thinking, "I'm going to give this chimp a run for my money." One swipe of this chimp's forearm and the guy would be on queer street and be carried out. It would end so quickly.

Robert: Then the house band would go [makes circus noises]. He's out of there.

Jad: Okay, so getting back to our story about Lucy. This is a story that begins in 1964 and it's one that Charles would have never heard about had he not bumped into this obscure old memoir.

Charles: Long out of print.

Jad: Yes, what's the name of the book? Do you actually have it with you?

Charles: Yes, hold on. It's called Lucy: Growing up Human: A chimpanzee daughter in a psychotherapist family by Maurice K. Temerlin.

Jad: Maurice K. Temerlin he is the psychotherapist?

Charles: He's a psychotherapist.

Jad: He's also the dad in this story. His wife Jane who's a social worker, she's the mom. Now the thing to know was that especially for Maurice Temerlin this was more than just adopting a baby chimp. This was an experiment.

Charles: Yes.

Jad: He wanted to know, given the right upbringing, how human could Lucy become?

Charles: What he says early on in this book, "Would she learn to love us and perhaps have other human emotions as well?"

David: Would she be well behaved? Rebellious?"

Charles: "Intelligent or stupid?"

David: "What about sex?"

Jad: Maurice Temerlin actually died in 1989 but these are his words read by radio host David Garland.

David: "Would she mother her offspring? Could she learn to talk? How intelligent might she be?"

Jad: How did they get her?

Charles: He says that, "He and his wife Jane-

David: -made all the arrangements.

Charles: Went and got the chimp from-

David: -the day the infant was born.

Charles: The mother was anesthetized-

David: In the early morning of her second day. Jane fed the mother a coca-cola which had been spiked with phencyclidine, a drug which puts chimpanzees into a deep, pleasant sleep."


Charles: The baby was taken away.

David: "Jane named her Lucy and brought her home on a commercial airline, carried in a bassinet her face covered with a lacy blanket. We were blissfully unaware of the complexities we were creating on the day Lucy came home."

Robert: The baby was a day or two old?

Charles: Just two days old.

Robert: So it wasn't weaned?

Charles: No and that was part of the experiment.

Robert: They bottle feed her?

Charles: Yes.

David: "She quickly learned to hold her own bottle. At two months her eyes would focus. At three months she was trying to climb out of her crib to go to people, and at six months, she was pretty mobile on all four limbs"

Jad: The memoir goes on. By the time she was about a year old-

David: "She was eating at the table with us."

Jad: Forks, spoons, knives.

David: "She would see us using silverware and immediately do so herself."

Jad: She began to dress herself in skirts.

David: "She would often grab my hand, pull me to my feet, and beg me to chase her. Always looking back to see that daddy was not too far behind."

Charles: He really went at this with this full bore earnestness. When he calls her his darling daughter and-

David: "I took great pride in my daughter's achievement."

Charles: He does feel like a real parent to Lucy.

David: "She was so responsive to being looked at, held, and stroked."

Charles: But he's also, and make no mistake, treating this as a very intense, cutting-edge experiment.

Jad: The next phase of the experiment, which occupies a good deal of the book, involves one of those talents that we thought used to have only be limited to us. Language.

Roger Fouts: Okay.

Jad: Can you introduce yourself, please?

Roger: Okay, my name is Roger Fouts. I'm a professor of psychology and I've worked with chimpanzees since 1967.

Jad: Roger Fouts was called in by Maurice Temerlin to address one of the crucial questions of the experiment.

David: "Could she learn to talk?"

Jad: Right, and at the time he was the guy. He'd just been part of a team that had proven for the first time that chimps could use sign language to communicate. His job with Lucy was to teach her how to sign.

Roger: I think I came into her life when she was, as I remember it was 1970, I think it was four or five. She was four or five years old.

David: "Roger taught her signs for airplane, baby doll, ball, banana, barrette, berry-

Roger: Yes, I was like-

David: "-blanket-"

Roger: -the tutor friend babysitter that would come over for a few hours.

David: "-bow tie-"

Roger: Each day and spend some time just playing with Lucy.

David: "-candy-"

Roger: I would work on signs.

David: "-cat-"

Roger: We'd read books together or we'd go for walks. I would chat with her basically.

David: "-cry, dirty-"

Jad: He says that Lucy-

David: "-enough-"

Jad: -just-

Roger: Picked it up.

Jad: -picked it all up.

Roger: It was like a game.

Charlie: She learned some 250 signs and the big question is, okay so is it mere mimicry or are they able to spontaneously create words and put them together in a new original way? There's been a lot of anecdotal evidence that, in fact, Lucy did spontaneously create words.

David: "In a later session, when shown a piece of watermelon, Lucy tasted it-"

Roger: And she called it "candy drink". A radish had gotten quite old and one day-- she was calling it "food" and "food" for I think several days of the study. Then she decided to eat this old radish and she took a bite and spit it out. I said, "Well what is that?" She called it "cry hurt food".

Robert: Wow.

Roger: She would also lie to me.

Jad: Really?

Roger: Yes.

Jad: Lying we should also say is another one of those things that people used to think only we do.

Roger: During one of my sessions, I came in and she had a potty accident. She had been potty trained but sometimes she didn't always make it and I was upset because I was now faced with having to clean it up and so I said, "Who's is that?" She said, "Sue."

Jad: Who's Sue?

Roger: Sue was one of my students that would come in and spend time with Lucy too. I said, "No, Sue's not here" and finally she-

Jad: She blamed it on Sue?

Roger: confessed and, yes, said, "Lucy" and "Sorry".

Jad: Sue?

Sue Savage-Rumbaugh: Yes.

Jad: This is Sue.

Sue: Sue Savage-Rumbaugh.

Jad: The grad student of yours who says she didn't actually see that lie take place.

Sue: Yes well, I wasn't there.

Jad: But she told us that when she met Lucy, she was blown away by the incongruity of it all. Like for instance, every time she'd walk in the house Lucy would just-

Sue: -walk casually into the kitchen and search through the cupboard for the kind of tea she wanted that day, put some water in a kettle and put it on the stove and make us tea.

Roger: Yes, it became a routine. I'd come in and she would start the tea.

Sue: It was the casualness with which she did it. The kind of air about it that, "Yes, I'm making tea and I would like you to have some too, because tea is what we do." The thing to do was to sit down and to casually sip the tea with Lucy and casually look through the magazines. Listen to the radio and-

Jad: What magazines would she look at?

Sue: Well, she looked at, I think, house and garden and some magazines that had pictures of women and children in them, whatever the Temerlins had out.

Jad: Wow.

David: "Lucy had developed an awareness of our emotions. If Jane is distressed-"

Jad: Temerlin's wife.

David: "-Lucy notices it immediately and attempts to comfort her by putting her arm about her, grooming her or kissing her. If Jane is sick, Lucy would exhibit tender protectiveness toward her, bringing her food, sharing her own food."

Jad: As we get to this next part, this is the midpoint of the memoir, it's useful to remember a basic fact of biology. Speciation happens when you've got one group of creatures that gets divided into two and then these two groups evolve away from one another. Eventually, they get so far away from each other that they can't have babies.

Robert: And nature makes sure that they can't have babies by making one species basically undesirable to the other. You look across, you're a baboon, you look across at a chimp and you go, "Ugh."

Jad: Yes, you're only sexually attracted to your own kind. That is essentially what a species is. This isn't something you're supposed to be able to learn or unlearn.

Robert: This is just the way it is.

Jad: Yes, which brings us to some troubling passages in the book. Beginning really on page 105, can you read it?

Charles: Yes.

Jad: We should warn that this next minute and a half contains a sexual reference.

Charles: "One afternoon around five o'clock Jane and I were sitting in the living room when we observed this sequence of behavior."

David: "Lucy left the living room and went to the kitchen. Opened a cabinet and took from it a glass. Opened a different cabinet and brought out a bottle of gin."

Jad: Gin?

Charles: Yes, she loved gin and tonics.

Jad: That's actually not the important part. It's what happens next. She takes her gin, goes back to the living room sits on the couch and there's really no other way to say this, she starts to masturbate. But even that's not the important part. It's actually in the very next moment. That a boundary that took approximately 6,000,000 years to establish dissolves.


Jad: Mr. Temerlin sees Lucy doing this and he thinks, "Hmm, this is a perfect experimental moment." He runs off to the mall-

Charles: -buys a copy of Playgirl magazine and brings it back to her.

Robert: It's just full of naked guys?

Charles: Yes, and Lucy would masturbate to these centerfolds.

Sue: I was not a part of that. I was never there when Lucy looked at the porno--

Jad: But Sue says that she was there for what happened next.

Sue: Yes. I was there when she was introduced to her first adult male chimpanzee.

Jad: Had Lucy ever seen another chimpanzee before?

Sue: Never seen another chimpanzee from the moment of birth.

Jad: Wow. She says they brought this male chimp in-

Sue: -to see if Lucy was attracted to chimpanzee males.

Jad: Was she?

Sue: Well, the male chimpanzee would sit there with his hand held out toward her and she was very frightened. She tried to move away.

Jad: It was then, said Sue, that she realized that in every way that mattered Lucy was no longer a chimp. She was stranded.

Sue: Right in-between. This great divide that I knew was there between humans and none humans. I did not know how to negotiate this. There is no category in our language except a mythical one for something that's not human and not animal.



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