22 April 2021, The Tablet

Wild thing


Wild thing

Lucy, the Human Chimp
Channel 4

In 1976, Janis Carter was a student of primatology at the University of Oklahoma, home of a pioneering project to teach chimpanzees sign language. To earn some pin money she took on the job of feeding and cleaning up after a chimpanzee called Lucy that had been “adopted” by a psychologist, Maurice Temerlin, and his wife Jane, who referred to her as their “daughter”. Lucy, who had been taken from her mother when a newborn, had been brought up by the Temerlins as if she was human, with “every human comfort possible” – she ate their food (using a spoon), played with a human doll, enjoyed looking at herself in a mirror, had mastered 120 or so words of sign language and, by the time we meet her in the documentary, could make herself a gin and tonic and light a cigarette. By 12, however, she had also reached chimp mating age and had suddenly become so violent and unpredictable that the Temerlins kept her locked in a cage. Janis was told not to approach her.

Get Instant Access

Continue Reading

Register for free to read this article in full

Subscribe for unlimited access

From just £21.50 quarterly

  Complete access to all Tablet website content including all premium content.
  The full weekly edition in print and digital including our 179 years archive.
  PDF version to view on iPad, iPhone or computer.

Already a subscriber? Login