|LANA & ME: Meetings with Remarkable Apes|
Two beings of just slightly different species, but totally different worlds, drawn to each other. Why? Well, I know why I was drawn to Lana. I’ve been studying bonobos for years, thinking about why they are so peaceful and so sexual, how we are like them and how we are not, how they have sex with so much sensitivity and savoir faire, and how they use sex to reduce violence in their societies. Bonobos had grown mythic in my mind. And now here was one who apparently wanted very much to communicate something to me. I felt touched by an angel who looked like a chimpanzee.
Of course, it’s harder for me to say why Lana was drawn to me. One of the many amateur primatologists who hang around the ape exhibits, said, “She’s angry with you,” when she first saw Lana--later joined by Kiri making faces and Mchumba doing handstands--banging on the glass at me. Then when this same woman noticed how Lana gently touched the glass just where I touched it, kissed me through the glass and looked at me, she revised her opinion. “She likes your hat,” she declared. I was wearing a wide-brimmed white straw hat that did look a bit like a halo around my long hair. Maybe I was Lana’s “angel.” Perhaps our almost universal notion that angels have bright halos is pre-human, who knows? Then as Lana continued to “chat” with me like a best girlfriend, in between kisses and communing via hands and feet, the lady said, “I hope you appreciate how much attention Lana is paying you. She never does that with anybody. You should feel honored.”
I certainly did feel honored. I only wish I knew what she was trying to tell me. Maybe it was just “girl talk.” Could be she was asking, “What’s with the halo, lady?” Could she be flirting with me? Perhaps she was one of the female bonobos that the zookeeper had “separated” from another female and, feeling sexually frustrated, she focused some of her intense libido on a “safe” target that wouldn’t get her into trouble with the zookeeper: me. My French friends were so *impressed,* they insisted that Lana somehow recognized that I’m a big bonobo advocate among humans, and she was greeting me, as the Alpha female of the San Diego Zoo tribe, ambassador-to-ambassador, to give me her encouragement and blessing. Even though I don’t believe that (how could this chimp know I’m a bonobo advocate?), I have come away from my Close Encounter with Bonobo Lana feeling greatly encouraged and truly blessed.
In “On Tortoises, Monkeys and Men,” Dr. Tony Rose writes about “profound interspecies events (PIEs)” which he describes as “natural epiphanies… reunion(s) of humanity and nature” that occur when “humans experience profound connections with animals.” My meeting with Lana was the closest thing I've ever experienced to a PIE, but what did it mean? I can only guess about what it meant to Lana, but for me, it was a physical affirmation of a powerful connection between our two species that I believe could save us both.
In these deadly times of human war, terror and error, it is vital that we reach out to our kissin’ cousins who hold the erotic key to peace: the bonobos. As I see it, Lana and I were reaching out to each other through the glass because we both need each other more than ever now. Not Lana herself; she and her tiny baby are safe and pretty well taken care of in their plush digs at the San Diego Zoo (though I can’t help but worry about the zookeeper preventing the females from bonding). But the bonobos as a species are teetering on the edge of extinction, thanks to the toll on their numbers taken by human war, poaching and destruction of the Congolese rain forest. Ironically enough, though they've been decimated by humans, now they need human help more than ever to survive as a species and as individuals. They even need the help of humans like me, controversial as we may be in these censorious times, because we love them, and we spread the Gospel of the Bonobos to our fellow humans everywhere.
We are trying to shake up America and the world to a new way of doing business, the Bonobo Way, the way of love, not war. This is the way of the future, if there is to be a future, for all of us. In saving the bonobos, we just might save ourselves. In reaching out to me through the glass, perhaps Lana was giving a kiss and a helping hand to one terrorized human race.
CONTACT DR. SUSAN BLOCK: firstname.lastname@example.org