Kelsey's Reviews > Next of Kin: My Conversations with Chimpanzees

Next of Kin by Roger Fouts
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's review
Apr 06, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites, environment
Read in February, 2008

A completely amazing, emotional book. A must read for anyone interested in human and animal welfare. I haven't been so emotionally affected by a book since "the only kayak."

p. 88 "I often found myself in heated exchanges with Washoe that reminded me of my own childhood. For ex., in early 1969, I had the thankless job of keeping her in the garage on laundry day while Susan Nichols used the washer in the Gardner's home to clean Washoe's clothes. Before, whenever Washoe had seen us gathering up her clothes, she'd know that the Gardner's backdoor would soon be open and she could sneak inside, where she would launch a chimp style raid: emptying the fridge, romping through the beds, and ransacking the closets. I always wound up frantically chasing her around the house. One time I turned on the vacuum cleaner to scare her out. This worked a little too well. in her panic to escape, she began defecating all across the Gardner's Persian rug.

The new laundry day strategy had me luring Washoe away from the trailer by suggesting that we GO GARAGE PLAY before Susan gathered up the dirty clothes. Washoe was usually enthusiastic about this b/c we had fixed up th garage as a rainy day playroom. We painted jungle scenes on the walls and put in a mattress for Washoe to bounce on, a parachute to swing on, and rugs to roll in. It was big enough for her to ride her tricycle around or to have wagon rides in. Once we were inside I would surreptitiously paddock the door.

This worked fine until Washoe looked out the window and saw Susan on her way to the Gardner's with the laundry. Then the garage became a prison and I was the big, bad brother. First she asked GO OUT. When I refused she signed, OPEN KEY, just in case I had forgotten how to get out. She even resorted to her most polite PLEASE OPEN. When I signed my refusal, she first began tickling me, then pinching and scratching, and finally tearing my shirt off. I was bigger than Washoe, but nowhere near as strong. I had to do something fast of these games would turn into major brother sister brawls.

It was during one of these brawls that I remembered a trick my older brother played on me when they wanted to keep me from going into a forbidden room. They would tell me that the "bogeyman" was in that room and he would "get me if I went inside." There was no question that Washoe's bogeyman was big black dogs so I pointed to the locked garage door and signed BIG BLACK DOG OUT THERE. EAT LITTLE CHIMPANZEE. Right away Washoe's eyes got big and her hair stood on end. She stood up on two legs and began swaggering like one angry ape. She hammered on the wall with the back of her hand. Then, suddenly, she charged across the garage, leaping into the air at the last moment and slammed into the locked door with both feet. Then she came back over to me.

This was working better than I had ever imagined. Washoe had ripped so many of my shirts on laundry day that I decided it was time to even the score a little. I asked her, YOU WANT GO OUT AND PLAY WITH BLACK DOG? She retreated to the farthest corner of the garage.

These exchanges went considerably beyond the kind of non-verbal communication one can have with a chimpanzee using facial expression and body language, or with a dog through barks and single word commands. Washoe and I were communicating. Symbolically she gave me symbolic information - telling me to open the door and suggesting that I unlock it using the key. I responded with symbolic information, false though it way, about the big black dog. If I hadn't been able to conjure up a non-existent dog, and if Washoe hadn't been able to comprehend it, I might not have been able to defuse our conflict. My soon might have been acquiring English faster and more comprehensively than Washoe was acquiring American Sign Language, but they were both using language to communicate abstractly and effectively. For me, this was the most powerful evidence supporting Darwin's theory that human language emerged from our ape-like ancestor."
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