I recently listened to an episode of the Radiolab podcast, which told the sad story of a chimpanzee named Lucy. Lucy was adopted at only two days of age by psychologist Dr. Maurice K. Temerlin and his wife Jane. The Temerlins decided to conduct an experiment to see if Lucy could be successfully raised as a human. During the early stages of her adolescence, Lucy learned human-like behavior such as eating at the dinner table and wearing clothing. She adopted human gestures, facial expressions and body language from her human parents. Primatologist Roger Fouts taught Lucy American Sign Language, of which she learned 140 signs.
Lucy’s human upbringing in the Temerlin house was relatively smooth until the age of about 12. As Lucy matured she became more disruptive and destructive, and she became particularly frustrated as she reached sexual maturity. Since she was raised as a human, Lucy identified as one and was only attracted to human males. When introduced to another chimpanzee, Lucy became confused and frightened.
Eventually, Lucy was moved to a rehabilitation center for chimpanzees in Gambia where she was accompanied by grad student Janis Carter. As Lucy got older, her mental condition worsened and she started to exhibit depression - refusing to eat at certain times and expressing “hurt” in sign language. Lucy never reproduced and found assimilating to her new life incredibly difficult. Janis Carter worked with Lucy for several years, observing her and helping her assimilate with other chimps.
After years of dedicated help from Carter, Lucy slowly adjusted to her new life as a chimpanzee. Though she still had human interaction and did not find a chimpanzee mate, she showed signs that she now identified as a chimpanzee and was comfortable in her new environment. Years later when Carter returned to Gambia she found the remains of Lucy’s skeleton, which seemed to indicate that she had been killed by poachers, although this fact is disputed by some.
The story of Lucy Temerlin raises many questions:
1. Is it ethical to conduct an experiment such as Dr. Temerlin’s?
2. Should wild animals be held in captive by humans under any circumstance?
3. What should the role of animals be in our society?
I think that an experiment such as Dr. Temerlin’s goes too far. It would have been unethical even if Lucy had not suffered any of the unintended consequences of being raised as a human. We do not have the right to turn wild animals into something they are not. Animals should be respected as living creatures, and not used for experimentation, entertainment, food, financial gain or any other human purpose. I think it is wrong to domesticate wild animals, as elephants are in Thailand. Elephants are seen as a symbol of wisdom and wealth in most Asian countries. This is an example of using a wild animal without regard to its natural state. Also, many species have been endangered and pushed to the brink of extinction due to human interference in their environment. Even America’s national bird, the bald eagle, is an example of this. As humans share the world with other species, it is inevitable that we will interact in many ways. As the dominant species, humans have more of a responsibility to treat our world and the rest of its inhabitants with respect. I believe that though we have the power to do whatever we please with many of the animals around us, that doesn’t give us the right to.