Return to Eden

April 05, 2017  •  3 Comments

It is sunny.


Charlos sits about fifty feet away. He's charged by me twice with stick in hand, kicking the dust up as he passes. Both times, he makes sure to look me in the eye. He knows I'm watching. He decides to round the bend outside of my line of vision, perhaps gearing up for another display.


The whites of his eyes show. I've never met a chimp like this, but I've seen photos, and I've always thought that the feature somehow makes apes seem more human. There might be something to this, which is how the cooperative eye hypothesis came to be. It says that white sclera (once thought to be a uniquely human trait) help us to follow another's gaze. When we do this, we have an intuitive window into someone's intentions without needing words. This is where Charlos and I are: no words, but curious. I want to understand him, because he wasn't here the last time I was here. He came to Sanaga-Yong sometime after my second departure in 2009. He used to live at a rescue center closer to the capital city of Yaoundé, but he was not treated well by the other chimps after being deposed as alpha male and thus was relocated. C'est la vie. None of us are noble all of the time.


He comes around again, but this time he is calmer. I approach him from the other side of the enclosure, careful to keep my distance. I extend my hand, a gesture in chimpanzee culture that means, "I'm not a threat. I respect you. I am trying to be your friend." We watch one another, white sclera regarding white sclera. We are the same. But we are different. 


He raises his eyes from time to time to look at me. We need time, I know. This never happens overnight.


Welcome back to life on the rim of the Congo basin.





Glad you're safely back & able to meet Mr. Charlo - he is indeed a special & fascinating chimpanzee (not to mention extremely handsome!). Enjoy your new found friend...
Curt Peterson(non-registered)
You are really back in the work setting you love. What an evocative account! I love your statements about the sclera and the communication of intentions, and yes, none of us are always noble. As Bob Dylan wrote in his song, "Its Alright, Ma",--- " But even the president of the United States Sometimes must have to stand naked." We are all involved in face saving, most of the time. We don't wish to be fully known by most of our counterparts. Your ruminations are treasures.

Thank you!
Lovely. Keen to read about all your adventures there.
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