Sunday, June 7, 2009

Defenses natural and otherwise

This is an excerpt from Sue Savage Rumbaugh's Kanzi: The Ape at the Brink of the Human Mind. I've just started reading the book and already it's proven inpirational.

This book really began the day the first joint of my right index finger was severed by an ape I didn't even see. Up from the bowels of a dimly lit cage she raged and parted me from the first joint of my finger. Wsa she angry at me? She didn't even know me, nor I her. I had just come to the Oklahoma "Chimp Farm" to learn about the signing apes, the ones that were supposed to talk to you with their hands. Little did I know that most adult chimps living in social groups are not kindly disposed to strangers, viewing them as something of a thread to be dealt with immediately. This was long before Jane Goodall had learned that apes kill members of other groups in the wild.
I had begun to study apes only a few months before this bite, but already, within three days of meeting them, I knew that the rest of my life would be spent studying apes. So like us they are, and yet so distinctly different in some ways.

Most of us like to think we have persistence, that we keep goals in sight when there are obstacles in the way. I know I'd like to think this. Based on personal experience, however, a bad turnaround is enough to shut us down. So hearing about a woman who commits to a career direction at the exact same moment that it costs her a digit, well, that definitely puts things in perspective. (She doesn't say whether the finger joint was reattached, but either way it would send most people screaming in the other direction.)

There's also a story of her being surrounded by wild dogs in a Portuguese forest. As she realizes she's being hunted, and there's no help within screaming distance, she takes a rock and chucks it at one of the dogs. It hits and she raises another rock to show them she can do it again. The pack retreats. There's a lesson here for those who aren't accustomed to being aggressive.

I know I've said this before, but I think I'll be talking more about this book.

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