“You and me baby, ain’t nothing but mammals – so let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel.”
We can’t be civil with each other so it’s no surprise humans struggle to find compassion to treat any animals, even our closest relatives, decently.
It may be argued we’re nastier to chimpanzees, gorillas and monkeys than we are to other animals – perhaps because to those of us insecure about our common ancestors, they mockingly display how lowly our origins might be.
I spent a day last week at Chimpanzee Eden in Mpumalanga – a place that rehabilitates these poor, endangered cousins of ours from maltreatment and extermination. You should go there, just to meet one creature in particular.
Cozi is 15. He has expressive but chaotic eyes and a good coat of lighter hair. He comes from the Congo. When I first saw him, he sat at the fence, swaying his head from side to side like an unsure Bollywood dancer.
He opened his mouth and stuck his tongue all the way out and rolled it in, looking up at the sky in a deranged, distracted way.
He watched us for a while, then forgot we were there, then saw us again, and made displays of power and authority – just in case we thought we might be the leaders of his cartload (that really is the collective noun for chimpanzees).
He was different. The other chimps tolerated him – with the exception of the alpha male, Zac, who needed to frequently remind Cozi that he was in charge as Cozi couldn’t remember it wasn’t him.
Cozi is a special-needs chimp, to put it mildly. He spent the first years of his life in a research facility in the US, having all manner of
hallucinatory and mind-altering substances tested on him.
After that, he toured Italy with a gypsy as a trickster, pointing at different parts of his body when prompted, for the amusement of an audience (the collective noun for us).
When he got it wrong, he’d be thrashed on the head, further pulverising his already damaged brain. He’s like the crazy grandmother, drunkle (drunk uncle) or eccentric relative we all have – and, just like the stranger members of our own species, he’s a lot more interesting than the normal ones.
Whether you look at the best or the most vulnerable members of a species, and especially primate society, you cannot help but think of how far we still have to go as the most successful (and lucky) of the animals on Earth.
We have made great strides to overcome the inconsequential differences, arbitrary prejudices and artificial inequalities we imposed on our brothers and sisters.
How much more must we evolve before we can overcome the stupid delusions of superiority we imagine we have over other species?
If the evolutionary tree had shot off in a different direction, it might be us who were put in the laboratories of another species, or beaten on the head when we failed to point to our noses.
If we’re the superior tribe, we have a funny way of showing it.
» Find out how to adopt, volunteer and donate to Chimpanzee Eden near Barberton at www.janegoodall.co.za
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