Lucy Temerlin

lucy

Lucy Temerlin (1964–1987) was a chimpanzee owned by the Institute for Primate Studies in Oklahoma, and raised by Maurice K. Temerlin, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and professor at the University of Oklahoma and his wife, Jane W. Temerlin.

Temerlin and his wife raised Lucy as if she were a human child, teaching her to eat with silverware, dress herself, flip through magazines, and sit in a chair at the dinner table. She was taught American Sign Language by primatologist Roger Fouts as part of an ape language project and eventually learned 140 signs. She appeared in Life magazine, where she became famous for drinking straight gin, rearing a cat, and using Playgirl and a vacuum cleaner for sexual gratification.

Around that time, the Temerlins introduced her for the first time to a male chimpanzee, and she was frightened and did not relate to him.

By the time she was 12, Lucy had become very strong and was very destructive in the Temerlin house. Eventually, she was shipped to a chimpanzee rehabilitation center in Gambia, accompanied by University of Oklahoma psychology graduate student Janis Carter. For years, Lucy was unable to relate to the other chimps in the rehabilitation center, and never reproduced, displaying sexual attraction only to humans.

Lucy showed many signs of depression, including refusal to eat, and expressed ‘hurt’ via sign-language. Though her adopted Temerlin parents stayed with Lucy for only a few weeks in Gambia, Janis Carter remained at the Center for years, devoting much of her life to helping Lucy assimilate to life in the wild.

Several years after leaving Lucy, Carter returned with some of Lucy’s belongings. Lucy and a group of chimps greeted her, and Lucy embraced her, and then left with the other chimps without turning back, which Carter interpreted as Lucy having assimilated to life as a chimpanzee. Lucy died a year later, at the hands of poachers reputedly.

Lucy was observed lying, something that was once considered uniquely human, because it is evidence of a sense of self, in this sign-language conversation about a pile of chimpanzee feces on the floor:

Fouts: WHAT THAT?

Lucy: WHAT THAT?

Fouts: YOU KNOW. WHAT THAT?

Lucy: DIRTY DIRTY.

Fouts: WHOSE DIRTY DIRTY?

Lucy: SUE (a reference to Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, a graduate student).

Fouts: IT NOT SUE. WHOSE THAT?

Lucy: ROGER!

Fouts: NO! NOT MINE. WHOSE?

Lucy: LUCY DIRTY DIRTY. SORRY LUCY.

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One Comment to “Lucy Temerlin”

  1. Such an intriguing factoid. A disturbed reality of what human intervention can lead to. Wooow.

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