Chimpanzees have been on my brain quite a bit lately. I don't mean "on my brain" like the Connecticut chimp Travis getting to gray matter by ripping off someone's face because he was jealous about an Elmo doll present. No not that. It has more to do with some things I've learned about Louisiana, and because of a recent negative classroom experience.
I've recently discovered that Louisiana is home to a giant primate research facility as well as a chimpanzee retirement home. The research facility is called the New Iberia Research Center, and it's in Lafayette. Occasionally I hear about monkeys escaping. That intrigues me, the idea of pharmaceutically mutated monkeys going into the swamps and mating with alligators. But then north of the research center is a chimp retirement home called Chimp Haven, and it's in Shreveport. Then this weekend, driving through Shreveport and Lafayette, This American Life had a story about retired chimpanzees and it discussed both of these facilities. I was amazed to hear about Cheetah, the chimp from the Tarzan TV show, well it turns out his favorite thing to do is to watch reruns of his acting. The show said chimps can only be used in movies from the age of 1-4, and then they are too strong and awnry to act. The show also said that chimps who were in research facilities like to watch General Hospital because they are used to humans in labcoats. The show also discussed why humans won't euthanize chimps, though we do every other animal.
Then yesterday in my Freshman Seminar class we were discussing Xavier's mission to create a more just and humane society, and I brought up the topic of animal research. I asked my students why humans won't euthanize chimpanzees? Several students commented on the irony that we don't put them down for the same reason we use them for testing, namely that they are the closest species related to humans.
Well this really upset one of my students, who angrily proclaimed that she wasn't related to a monkey.
This was dangerous water to tread, especially after the New York Post cartoon about Obama. So I asked her about this further. First I said that I had a friend who would be very upset that you called a chimp a "monkey" because it is in fact an ape. Then I said that you would have to admit that chimps are more closely related to humans than a rabbit. She said no, both have no relationship to humans. OK then, I said, what about a rock. Chimps are more closely related to humans than a rock, right? No, she said, chimps are not related to humans. That's the way the class ended. Not my best pedagogical moment, mostly because I was astounded at the ignorance. So I came up with this chart that I'll use in my next class. Maybe that's all that was missing, a visual aid.