Our Basic Nature
Our Basic Nature

"I often have the feeling that the deeper I look into Lucy the more I may see of my own basic nature."
—Dr. Maurice Temerlin

In the 1960s, psychotherapist and chimpanzee breeder Dr. William Lemmon began a series of experiments out of his Institute for Primate Studies in Norman, Oklahoma. Lucy was one of a number of infant chimps sent to live in species isolation with Lemmon’s students, patients and colleagues. Decades later, Lucy’s remarkable story was the centerpiece of an episode of WNYC’s Radiolab.

Lucy remained with her human “family” for well over a decade – far longer than any other “cross-fostered” chimp. During that period Lucy’s adoptive “father,” the psychotherapist Maurice Temerlin, walked an interesting line. His intent was to study the effects of raising a chimp in an “enriched environment,” providing a childhood that mirrored, as closely as possibly, that of his biological son. In other words, the experiment required he approach Lucy not as a dispassionate scientist, but as a loving father. In his memoir, Lucy: Growing Up Human, Temerlin’s genuine affection for his daughter is obvious. He proudly relates stories of his daughter’s accomplishments, describing and analyzing her interactions — with family members, other humans, a kitten, a herd of cattle — in a series of episodes that are by turns touching, amazing, hilarious and disturbing. He is particularly fascinated by her experimental interactions with members of other species. "I often have the feeling,” wrote Temerlin, “that the deeper I look into Lucy, the more I see of my own basic nature."

Actual events described in Temerlin’s memoir serve as a starting point for Lucy, a fictional memory opera in which we meet Temerlin alone in his office, some decades after he made the decision to bring Lucy into his home. As he struggles to hold on to his story of a happy, if unconventional, family life, additional documentation both supports and challenges his efforts.

Lucy is a one-act monodrama. A chamber ensemble of violin, cello, bass clarinet, piano and toy piano combines, breaks apart, and recombines to evoke shifting memories and feelings, from the savage to the subtle. While Lucy’s presence is summoned in sound and story, the baritone is the only live primate in the piece.

Lucy was not the only chimp to be reared in an environment at odds with her true nature. Many young primates have been exploited as pets, actors or research animals. However, people often fail to consider the specialized lifetime needs of these primates. A number of organizations are working to provide for the continued welfare of primates. You can learn more about their work, and how you can help, by following the links below.

The Center for Great Apes' mission is to provide a permanent sanctuary for orangutans and chimpanzees who have been rescued or retired from the entertainment industry, from research, or from the exotic pet trade.

North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance’s mission is to advance and advocate for the welfare of captive primates.

The Arcus Foundation is dedicated to the idea that people can live in harmony with one another and the natural world. We believe respect for diversity among peoples and in nature is essential to a positive future for our planet and all its inhabitants.

The Primate Specialist Group is a network of scientists and conservationists who stand against the tide of extinction which threatens humanity’s closest kin.

Save the Chimps provides and builds support for permanent sanctuary for the lifelong care of chimpanzees rescued from research laboratories, entertainment, and the pet trade. 

Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries strives to continuously improve the quality of care for animals requiring sanctuary.

Chimp Haven strives to provide and promote the best care of sanctuary chimpanzees and inspire action for the species worldwide.