by Milo Cornelius Science Newswire staff writer
December 13, 2006
(Science Newswire) DES MOINES -- Conservatives howl when anyone compares George W. Bush to Hitler, and the left rolls their eyes when the right compares Bush to Winston Churchill or Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but no one has taken much offense when Bush is compared to a chimp—until now. Chimps who have been taught to communicate with humans have unanimously expressed anger and dismay at being compared with President Bush.
Over the last few decades, researchers have been able to teach primates to communicate with American Sign Language, lexigrams, and computers. Although their vocabulary is rudimentary, it is more than adequate not only for asking for basic needs to be met, but for expressing feelings and opinions.
Their distress was first discovered when a researcher was working on basic math with signing chimp Washoe, and she overheard another scientist refer to Bush as a “chimp faced moron.” She stopped her lesson to sign over and over “bush dirty bad stupid not chimp,” and persisted until the offending person told her that he agreed Bush was not a chimp, and that chimps are not dirty bad and stupid like Bush.
In another case, Lana, a chimp taught to use lexigrams on a computer, asked her trainer to show her pictures of other chimps on the internet. When websites like Smirking Chimp or Bush or Chimp came up instead, Lana gave a distress howl and defecated on her computer viewing stool, which is highly unusual for the otherwise potty trained chimp.
At other research centers and zoos, scientists believe overhearing similar comments has led chimps to withdraw from communicating with humans because they feel mocked and disrespected by them. At the Dubuque City Zoo, the primate enclosure was too small for chimp Zena to get out of earshot of Bush jokes, and the humiliation led her to take up smoking.
As a solution to the growing problem, the Primate Center at the University of Eastern Nevada have begun testing chimp reactions to references to Bush as a lower primate or other mammals.
“They seem to be offended by referring to him generically as a monkey, but don’t seem to mind if he is described as a specific lower primate like a lemur, macaque, or baboon,” said Dr. Natalie Trundy, director of the Primate Center.
“We hope that others replicate these results, so we can make recommendations to pundits, comedians, and cartoonist that will allow them to accurately lampoon the president without causing further harm to the self-esteem of these articulate, intelligent, and caring chimpanzees, who obviously have nothing in common with him apart from a physical resemblance that they can’t help.”
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