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So, I think I've named my first monkey. The G-baby, Grace, is actually a boy, and so we were thinking up boy names, and they were going to go with Gilligan until I said, "What about Gomez?" And for a five month old cebus apella, G-baby does look oddly like Gomez Addams. So Gomez it is.

Speaking of G-babies... Gretel is already three years old. She looks much younger. The people in the lab think that her low rank might be stunting her growth. But recently she's gone up in the world, mostly because she's taken to attacking Goya, her older sister and the lowest ranking monkey of them all. Goya's got scars all over, and so much of her hair/fur has fallen out that she's more skin than brown. Just looking at her makes me want to cry.

We showed her to Devon from the field station, and he told us about one of their chimpanzees. He was attacked a few weeks ago by several of the other male chimps. They gouged out one of his eyes, and tore off half the lid. He had wounds on his arms and neck. But he's recovering pretty well. Devon also told us about a chimpanzee who was killed at another station. He said the other chimps took a long time about it, beating him to death one by one. "That's - that's torture - " one of the people from my lab said. Is it? We walk such a line between trying not to anthropomorphize these primates and drawing every conclusion we can from them, and applying it to ourselves. Well, it's an easy enough conclusion. The chimpanzees are our closest ancestors. They evolved the ability to torture, and we perfected it. But that's just one hypothesis.

Then I went to my desk and checked my e-mail and clicked on BBCnews. When a conflict has existed since before you were born, sometimes it seems eternal. And I can't bring myself to blame anybody, because who do you blame? The individuals on both sides who escalate the conflict - the suicide bombers, the war criminals - they're just individuals. As long as the situation exists, there will always be someone who will react that way to it. Colleen, a grad student in my lab, told me that capuchins in the wild don't act like ours do. The low-ranking capuchins don't get beat up, they just run away. But Goya has nowhere to run to. We do all we can to protect her, shouting at the other monkeys when they go after her, threatening them with the hose, distracting them with peanuts and froot loops. We're her greatest defenders. But we put her in that situation. We put Gretel into that situation. We're putting the G-baby into that situation.

Of course, if we released them into the wild, they'd all die sooner anyway. Goya might not get beat up but she'd starve to death when food got tight and the others took her food and refused to feed her. That's the practicality of the situation. Pidyon shvuyim, one of the greatest tenets of Jewish law, demands the redemption of captives. Israel in the past has traded thousand of prisoners - some innocent, yes, but some terrorists - for a single Israeli soldier. Today they decided on a different path. Maybe it was motivated by practicality. Maybe they thought they could save more lives by attacking rather than trading. At this point, who knows? Can anyone really find a solution garaunteed not to spill any more blood?

I don't have an answer. All I have is a guilty conscience, and a headache.
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So, my computer crashed last night, but I guess it just needed some alone time, 'cause I tried it this morning and it was working fine. Unfortunately, it crashed after the library had closed so I had to go to CVS to get something to read. The selection was pretty awful. In the end I got Dan Brown's Deception Point because it looked better than a cheesy romance novel and you know what? It wasn't that bad. I would actually say it was pretty decent for a mass-marketed thriller. The characters were cardboard but sympathetic, the writing style was uninspired but at least it flowed. And some of the situations were awesome. Hammerhead sharks? A volcano? You know I'll like any book with a volcano.

Things are much, much better at the lab. The bare bones of the situation haven't really changed at all, but my supervisor and I are on much better terms - we talked for two hours Thursday morning, and then after work the whole lab went to see Frans de Waal speak and then out for drinks afterwards. Yesterday I got to go in with the monkeys - really in, to feed them. They were too busy with the oranges and bananas and juice-soaked bread to pay much attention to me, but I picked up a piece of banana and Lance came over to me, putting one hand on my arm for balance and grabbing the banana with the other. Then he sat next to me eating contentedly.

Of course, it isn't all sweetness. Capuchins have a pretty complex social hierarchy and the other group, the Bolts, ganged up and attacked the lowest-ranking female, Georgia. Her hand and her tail were bleeding and we had to put her in isolation with her baby. I think the worst part is the baby, Grace, who right now is so small and cute it almost hurts to look at her. You know that when she gets a little older she will be picked on like all the other Gs, like Gretel who darts around never touching any of the other monkeys and Goya, who is losing her hair. Right now Grace can do whatever she wants, she can jump on the alpha male's back and bite him with abandon, and he'll just tolerate her. But one day, in a few months even, she's going to do it and he's going to bite back, and she may not even survive it. G-babies have been killed by the Bolts before.


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November 2009

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