a team of around twenty people (technicians, postdocs, graduate
students, and undergraduates), I am never two days in a row at the
Links is where our offices are, and nearby we keep a colony of about
monkeys supervised by my technician, Marisa
Hall. The monkeys are divided into two groups in indoor/outdoor
areas. Most of the time, they just tumble around in their own enclosures,
groom each other, and sometimes fight. I hear from Marisa the latest
developments, which to an outsider must sound like a soap opera
(such as "Bravo is in love with Sammie, but has to stay out of sight
of the alpha male, Drella, to get anywhere with her" or "there are
tensions so that bottom-ranking Emma gets beaten up"). Since I have
known these monkeys for a long time, the stories carry meaning.
also hear how the latest testing is going, or help Marisa develop
a protocol for new tests that we're planning. I look at videotapes
to see for myself how the monkeys perform. The testing is usually
done in a separate cage that we call the "test chamber." The monkeys
enter the chamber, are kept there to solve a puzzle, share food
with each other, or work on the computer touch-screen of Jen
Pokorny, a student who wants to know how well the monkeys discriminate
faces. After each test session, the monkeys are released back into
their group. The lab has undergraduate student helpers, but the
graduate students run their own projects, which they will tell me
about if there's any news. There are so many details to attend to,
and so many meetings, that the day is over before I know it.
days, I am at the Psychology Department, where I teach, see more
students, and do the administration of data and money matters. The
only primates I see on those days are human. In class, I show tons
of pictures and videos of nonhuman primates since I believe students
can't understand primate behavior without seeing it for themselves.
or two days a week I drive my old Pontiac to the Yerkes
Field Station, near Lawrenceville, which is about an hour outside
of the city. It is a 117 acre piece of land on which we keep about
two thousand primates, mostly rhesus monkeys. This station used
to be in the middle of nowhere, but is now in the suburbs, separated
from the neighborhood by a lake, a forest, and a high fence. The
primates live in large groups in fenced-in, open-air compounds with
lots of space and climbing structures. We work with two groups of
chimpanzees that I have known for decades.
again, I listen to my technician, Marietta
Dindo, who fills me in on all of the developments, power struggles,
and life-changing events. Peony's arthritis is acting up, Bjorn
has a major gash from a fight, and Azalea is being weaned by her
mom, and so on. A lot of the research here is observational. Marietta
stands on the tower with a keyboard attached to a palm pilot and
types in the behavior she sees, or graduate student, Amy
Pollick, videotapes social interactions to see how the apes
combine hand gestures with vocalizations.
also experiment with chimps, but since we cannot control them (they're
stronger than we are) we are dependent on their willingness to be
tested. Everything is on a volunteer basis. We have a special testing
room into which we lure them by calling their names (we can even
ask one chimp to fetch another, since they also know each other's
names). Testing with chimps is slow: on some days no one wants to
work with us (such as when the weather is splendid) whereas on other
days they all try to come into the testing rooms, making lots of
noise and preventing us from the one-on-one testing we prefer. Our
tasks have to do with cooperation, reciprocity, imitation, mirror
self-recognition, and so on. One project that is really taking off
is cultural learning by Dr.
Victoria Horner (of St. Andrews University) and Kristin
Bonnie. See their special website.
have an office that overlooks one chimp compound. I have seen most
of the adults grow up, so know them extremely well. They know me,
too, of course, and never object to me being around, whereas strangers
are received with mud balls against the window of my office, which
they consider part of their territory. I watch the developments
in the group, as there's always something going on, even on the
laziest summer day.
my days are not necessarily filled with hands-on primate work. I
have watched monkeys and apes for literally thousands of hours,
so only need to hear half a story or see a brief scene to know what's
going on. I now leave the labor-intensive testing and observations
mostly to others, but do want to be close to the scene and see my
primate friends on a regular basis.