World Famous Anthropologist David Watts Weighs In On The Appropriateness Of Using The Term "Trumpanzee"
Monday we embedded a video, the one up above, of a deadly attack by a pack of chimpanzees on a solo chimp from the same group. It was part of a discussion about suspending the use of the word Trumpanzee and the phrase Señor Trumpanzee here at DWT. We referred to Jane Goodall and her book, My Life With The Chimpanzees as part of the debate after Goodall noted that "in many ways the performances of Donald Trump remind me of male chimpanzees and their dominance rituals. In order to impress rival, males seeking to rise in the dominance hierarchy perform spectacular displays: stamping, slapping the ground, dragging branches, throwing rocks. The more vigorous and imaginative the display, the faster the indivividual is likely to rise in the hierarchy, and the longer he is likely to maintain that position." It worked especially well for Trump vis-à-vis the most craven of his former rivals, Scott Walker Rick Perry, Dr. Ben, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, Chris Christie Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, and, ultimately, Marco Rubio. It worked less well with Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Jeb Bush. Trump now owns the former group and is still engaged in some form of warfare with the latter members of the pack.
Eventually, this led to a discussion with noted Yale anthropologist and chimpanzee expert David Watts-- he was formerly the director of the Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda founded by Dian Fossey and is currently doing research on chimpanzees at Ngogo, Kibale National Park in Uganda. He made the video you can-- and should-- watch up top as part of his research at Ngogo. And he said it would be OK for me to share his e-mail below with DWT readers:
I disagree strongly with the narration in the clip from "How Animals Think" at the point where the narrator says that it wasn't clear whether the attack was premeditated. I have no doubt that it wasn't (whether attacks that occur during boundary patrols are ever "premeditated" is a fascinating question, but one I doubt we can ever answer with any certainty, although my inclination is to think the answer is "yes"). I had been with the males who attacked him literally seconds before I saw the attack, and they did not know he was nearby. They were resting and grooming when they heard some screams some far off; they all jumped up and ran in that direction, and by the time I could catch up the attack was underway. They might have been able to recognize whoever screamed from the acoustics of the (although he might not have been the one who screamed), but those who attacked him-- not everyone did-- literally had only seconds, at most, between arriving where he was and seeing him and starting the attack. I wouldn't call that premeditation.
As for what it looks like: yes, it is disturbing. I have seen two similar attacks on males who were members of neighboring communities, the first of which was much more intense than that on Grapelli (the male was dead within 10 minutes), I've seen multiple infanticides and a lethal attack on a juvenile, I've seen them make a lethal attack on an adult female, and I've seen attacks in which the victims managed to escape. Besides being disturbing, the behavior is also absolutely fascinating, and the combination is such that I try to switch into professional observer mode and detach myself emotionally from what is going on as much as possible (turning of the surge of adrenaline isn't possible, though) and try to document what is happening without thinking about who it is happening to. I couldn't quite do that with Grapelli because I knew him, although I had my camera out and I kept it on throughout. Regardless, I never pass judgement on the chimps and in the end I am not disturbed-- quite the contrary, I think they are absolutely wonderful-- precisely because they are chimps, not humans. Whatever their behavior tells us about our own-- and I think it tells a fair amount, although I try to be careful about the comparisons and I think Jane is much too facile (and, much as I respect her, I should add that she is very out of date regarding research on chimpanzee behavior)-- they are not us. We are still very different, and we should not judge them as we would other humans; to do so is totally inappropriate.
As for "Trumpanzee": I hadn't encountered the term before, and much as I detest Trump, I don't like it. I never like it when people make those kinds of comparisons, which are insulting to the chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans involved (not to mention that in many cases, although not Trump's, the comparisons are racist). Trump may deserve human rights, but that's not a reason not to call him a chimpanzee. We shouldn't call him a chimpanzee because he isn't one and because chimpanzees are not some form of inferior quasi-humans who don't quite have our dignity or deserve our respect. They have an inherent dignity as chimpanzees and deserve respect for what they are. In fact, I respect every chimpanzee who participated in the attack on Grapelli (and I respect the chimpanzees from a neighboring community, whom I didn't know, who killed poor Stravinsky in 2006), but I have absolutely no respect for Donald Trump, whose behavior I evaluate according to completely different standards!
As I explained last week, we have suspended the regular use of the word "Trumpanzee" and the phrases "Señor Trumpanzee" or "Monsieur Trumpanzee" and have been tending to revert back to our old standard, "Herr Trumpf." Any complaints?