Archive for March, 2004

Washoe – next of kin

Thursday, March 25th, 2004

I remember reading about a female chimpanzee being raised by scientists
in some warm southern state. Her name was Washoe but I forgot her until
I read a novel about research being done on great apes in institutions
around the world. Washoe and 2 other chimpanzees reside in a classroom/living
room within a college campus. I visited them as part of a field trip through
the annual conference – EEAW (Environmental Education Association of Washington)
– state that is.

Recall this chimpanzee raised as a family member by scientists who taught
her to communicate in American sign language. It rocked the world to think
that a lower animal could understand and respond with signs to humans.
Many did not believe it and some still do not.

Washoe lives with her adopted son, Dar, and Tatu, a male who became her
protector. They are all in their late thirties, having been captives since
a few months old. Another female died months ago from an infection. She
was removed to a hospital when she held her stomach and signed "hurt"
but the infection was too far advanced to be treated.

When Washoe became too large and strong to live and play with for human
safety, she was caged and studied further. Other chimps were introduced
to her – some of which she accepted, some refused. Humans cannot live
with adult chimpanzees in captivity without physical danger. Jane Goodall
taught scientists many things about those animals, one of which was that
humans could exist beside the chimpanzees in their world.

Chimpanzees are used mercilessly in entertainment. The young are cute
and forced to perform in circuses and on stage always imitating some human
action. When they grow too large to be controlled they are "released"
to research institutions and infected with disease or used in decompression
studies or other things unimaginable. Safe houses are established to protect
these animals if they are lucky enough to get into one.

We share more characteristics with chimpanzees than any other species
but we are as different from them as horses are to dogs. Perhaps we are
learning just how much we are a part of this world and how closely we
belong to it.

I am ambivalent about being an animal rights activist. But the economic
system that encourages people to abuse anything and everything for money
does not make life better for anyone, especially the abuser.

Remembering Lewis and Clark but forgetting their discovery

Monday, March 1st, 2004

"for the purposes of commerce…" wrote Thomas Jefferson
to Congress in 1803, so began the lecture "The Remembering and
Forgetting of Lewis & Clark" by a visiting professor and new
author in the realm of experts on an epic journey that took the USA
from sea to shining sea. Focus on the founding fathers – US developers
as it were. Specifically President Thomas Jefferson who sent explorers
to search for a water way to the Pacific for a cheaper, quicker trade
route to the "Indies".

The basis of wealth lay with the landowners. People who owned land
were wealthy and they served in Congress. Not all members were interested
in exploration in itself but there were others very much interested
in commerce. What made the Lewis & Clark exploration palatable to
Congress (for modest funding) was the mapping of unknown lands for settlement
and securing Indian tribes friendly for safe trade. The men returned
in 1806 and the public waited publication of the discoveries.

Focus on hardships of the epic journey was replaced with boiling issues
at work decrying wasteful slaughter of wildlife and a realization that
"nature" was being destroyed.

The rigorous journey and unimaginable hardships were put out of the
American mind – until a century had passed – in 1905. The Centennial
of the completion of the Lewis & Clark expedition was celebrated
with a special printing of a $10 bill with a picture of the Captains
and a bison on its face. The awesome journey was celebrated with a push
toward conservation and stewardship of natural lands and protection
of wildlife, bringing not only awareness of the historical implications
of the trip but some pretty good revenue from the public participating
in the fun.

Then after WW II businesses began to note their heritage, "founded
in 1900 etc" to establish a legacy of long time respect and integrity.
Industry went for automation. Factories left for foreign soil. Tourism
developed. Nature tours were invented and a wondrous lucrative goal
was focussed on Centennials for the new millennium. Just about every
environmental and social movement rushed to celebrate the Century –
not in welcome of the Twenty-first – but remembering the past.

Lewis & Clark was – is – a gold mine for tourism. At Sacajawea
State Park at the confluence of the Snake and Columbia rivers a second
annual Heritage Day will occur October 9, 2004. Visitors are invited
to relive history. Live vicariously the reenactment of mountain men,
Indian dancers, tool makers and dugout canoes.

The parting note of the lecture was that if the millions and millions
of dollars spent on the Lewis & Clark focus were to be spent on
developing jobs for the communities, society would be the richer for
it. And although I disagreed on some of Mark Spencer’s premises, I know
he is right about that because the only ones who benefit from tourism
are the owners of the hotels, restaurants, and stores where tourists
shop. And so echoes President Jefferson’s statement…"for the
purposes of commerce".