Primates Are People Too?

Apparently the Great Ape House at the zoo in Swope Park, Kansas City, Missouri is now abandoned but I used to enjoy it very much, even if years ago it was the site of personal embarrassment, an odd gaffe on my part. The last time I was there I walked about taking photographs of the hippopotamus, the antelope, the large cats, and then I entered the Great Ape House to see what might be seen. Nothing, no one else was in the building and no primates were visible in the open-air enclosure on the other side of a wide curved plate glass wall. This was a disappointment as I like primates as much as anyone else, so I thought I might stay and endure the primate stink that filled the building to see if something turned up. I lingered five minutes, maybe ten minutes, then I gave up in frustration. Turning toward the exit I spontaneously gave a few loud, low hoots of annoyance and demand, vocalizations that reverberated in the empty building. In for a dime, in for a dollar, so I continued hooting, running cadences of hoots to be heard, and I was heard. Within seconds an adolescent chimpanzee came scrambling down the path outside and rounded by the window giving a long, hard look to see who had the nerve to make that noise. What a hoot! I hoped that it would run by again, but apparently one look at me was enough. He came and went so fast I did not even get a photograph. The twist came as I exited the Great Ape House and stepped into a crowd of bright-eyed humans all looking directly at me to see what sort of person had been hooting. This still gives me a blush and a chuckle today. I tried to pretend I was not the hooter, but when no one else came out of the building I could see laughter growing on everyone’s face. I took some quick photographs of the very alert chimpanzees who were all gathered outside on the side of the enclosure next to the Great Ape House. The chimpanzees were very aware that something odd was going on and I got some nice photographs. Their gestures are sometimes so very human, and at least in my case the converse holds for hooting.

Caption: Chimpanzee Three, composite photograph by Annmarie Throckmorton, 2006.

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