Books by people who have raised apes in their homes

Carrie McLaren is a guest blogger at Boing Boing and coauthor of Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. She lives in Brooklyn, the former home of her now defunct Stay Free! magazine.

As mentioned earlier, I collect books by people who have raised apes or monkeys in their homes, so, as a service to Boing Boing readers, I thought I'd review them for you.

Toto and I: A Gorilla in the Family, by A Maria Hoyt (1941)

A charming memoir by an eccentric heiress who brought Toto home after her husband, working for the Museum of Natural History in New York, shot Toto's mother on the hunt for a specimen. Despite marrying a mommy killer, Hoyt goes to the wall to help young Toto, even moving to Cuba to accommodate her charge. There are lots of choice anecdotes in this book but my favorite involve sleep training the gorilla. Like many children, Toto insisted on sleeping with her parents. Caregiver Thomas and Toto slept in separate beds in Toto's room; each night over the course of month, Tomas moved his bed farther and farther away from Toto until he was actually out of her room. (Incidentally, this is essentially the same method recommended by the Sleep Lady.) Before Toto was weaned from cosleeping, however, she "punished" Tomas by locking him in her bedroom:

[Toto] slammed the door after him, deftly locking it from the playroom side. Since the windows were heavily barred, Tomas was now securely confined with Toto, his jailer, dancing in triumphant joy in the other room.... For over an hour, he stayed there securely locked up. Then, growing a little weary of the game, he called Toto to the door, scolded her severely and told her to unlock it and let him out. Shamefacedly, she obeyed...


Lucy: Growing Up Human, A Chimpanzee Daughter in a Psychotherapist's Family, by Maurice K. Temerlin (1972)

Touchy-feely account by a nut job (Maurice Temerlin, aka Maury) who goes to great lengths to maintain a relationship with his chimpanzee "daughter." Lucy is by all accounts an extremely precocious chimp; the stories here are lively and engaging but often for the wrong reasons. I could write at length about this book but instead I'll just share one telling anecdote. Maury, like many caretakers of primates, insists on calling Lucy his daughter. Most of such quasi-parents keep their charges in cages and use cattle prods or other devices to keep them in line. Not Maury. But he's got his own bizarre ideas of what it means to be a dad:

Lucy attempts to mouth my penis whenever she sees it, whether I am urinating, bathing, or having an erection. As a matter of fact I think it is accurate to say that Lucy is fascinated by the human penis since she attempts to explore it with her mouth whenever she can, unless it is mine and she is swollen in estrus.

So Maury frequently has erections in the company of his "daughter" and observes her putting penises (not just his own!) in her mouth. And, wait, there's more: "I found this a very interesting observation as throughout the years of my deep affection for Lucy I never experienced sexual desire for her. " Interesting? Really? She's supposed to be your daughter? And a chimp!

Maury ended up getting fired from his job as head of the psychology department at the University of Oklahoma. Lucy, however, triumphed: after nearly 18 years with crazy Maury and his wife (a record), she became one of the very rare chimps who was successfully re-introduced into the wild in Africa.


Nim, by Herbert S. Terrace (1979)

Terrace was a professor at Columbia University who acquired Nim Chimpsky (a pun on you know who) in order to conduct an experiment in teaching a chimp sign language. Nim is a clever little imp. After sneaking a bowl of cereal, he would hide the evidence (the dirty bowl). Unlike many chimps, he was able to be potty trained. In fact, when he wanted to get out of doing something unpleasant, he'd sign "dirty" to indicate that he had to go to the bathroom.

Unfortunately, little Nim was treated more like a test subject than a family member. Every time he developed a bond with one of his teachers, the semester ended or the teacher would otherwise leave, stranding him with strangers. Chimps are extremely social creatures and, without being able to develop bonds with others, Nim suffered emotional problems. Consequently, Nim didn't learn nearly as well as was expected.

After shipping Nim back to a research facility, Terrace closely studied video tapes of Nim and concluded that Nim couldn't communicate with language. In the book, Terrace acknowledged that Nim's social problems likely foiled the study, but over time he seems to have downplayed his own failings with the study and gone out whole hog on a mission to prove that apes are incapable of language. Pity. A followup book by Elizabeth Hess, Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human, came out last year but I haven't read it yet.


No He's Not a Monkey, He's an Ape and He's My Son, by Hester Mundis (1976)

Two New York writers buy a chimp from an exotic pets store, seemingly as an excuse to write a book about it. This book is relatively dull, though I did appreciate reading about little Boris' habit of sneaking up on the family dog and swatting him in the balls. The writers gave Boris to a zoo a year after buying him. They published two books about him.


Samba and the Monkey Mind, by Leonard Williams (1965)

This was the first primate-related book I read and remains one of my favorites. It's written by a charming Australian man with a gift for prose and a habit of accepting rogue wooly monkeys that no one else wants to deal with. The book doesn't have much in the way of structure; it's just observations by Williams about his woolies. For example, Williams notices that female woolies make passes at the boys by peeing on them. (Williams gets peed on a lot.) The tititular Samba ("a little black wooly poltergeist") has a habit of sneaking in the liquor cabinet and taking a "nip" of sherry. She never remembers to put the bottle back, though: "Samba is, frankly, an unrepentant rogue." There are lots of pictures of Williams' troops, and they are, by all objective measures, utterly adorable. Fun summer reading. I was sad when it was over.

The History of Noell's Ark Gorilla Show, by Mae Noell (1979)


A fascinating memoir by one of the founders of a 1940s side show that featured chimps who would box men from the audience. For real. Granted, the name of the show is a misnomer. The average person at the time hadn't heard of chimps (or assumed them to be small monkeys) so for publicity's sake the Noell's called them gorillas.

The show began by soliciting participants from the audience; the ones who came forward were a self-selected bunch of drunks and he-men with something to prove. The chimps ate them up. Sometimes literally. Noell writes that the chimps were natural showmen. Because they craved laughter and applause, they needed no training to perform. They would instinctively pull acts that they knew would get a reaction: somersaults and acrobatics, egging on the men, and tearing off opponents' clothes. Once, a chimp named Snookie rammed both thumbs up his opponents nostrils, Three Stooges-style, and stretched them apart until the sides tore. From that point all, all chimps were required to wear gloves and muzzles. Ultimately, of course, government killjoys stepped in and stopped the show. The Noells ended up founding a sanctuary in Palm Springs, Florida, called Chimp Farm. (That sanctuary has a pretty storied history.) Incidentally, one of their apes gave birth to baby Lucy, the chimp adopted by Maury Temerlin.


The Ape in Our House, by Cathy Hayes (1951)

Before primate psychologists were hip to sign language, Keith and Cathy Hayes attempted to raise a chimp as their daughter and teach her oral language. Keith and Cathy would manually try to shape baby Viki's mouth to get her to say "mama" and the like. Since chimps have little capacity for vocalizing, these lessons never amounted to much, and the Hayes eventually gave up. Viki picked up some o the Hayes' other habits, however. In the morning, she would run out to get the newspaper, sit on the couch and hold it as if scanning headlines, then turn pages one by one as if reading. After seeing "mom" Cathy trying to remove a clothing stain, she started dabbing a washcloth on some clothing herself.

The book covers the day to day life of Viki up to year three; I don't know what happened after that. In fact, I didn't actually finish this one; I found it a bit dull.

Eve and the Apes, by Emily Hahn (1988)

This book is an outlier but since it's about woman who have raised apes (many at home) I wanted to briefly mention it. Hahn was a New Yorker writer fascinated with primates. Each chapter focuses on a different woman and her charge(s); one features Maria Hoyt and Toto, another Penny Patterson and Koko, zoo director Belle Benchley, etc. So many women have devoted their lives to apes that Diane Fossey and Jane Goodall don't merit a place here; their contributions are too well-known. Hahn had caught on to something about primatology: much of what we know about ape intelligence and behavior was discovered by women. In fact, women have been integral to primatology to an extent rare in other sciences. Robert Yerkes, often credited as the "father" of primatology, learned how to raise apes from a Cuban woman, Madame Abreu. Anyway, this book is particularly well-written and informative.


I already wrote about W.N. Kellogg's The Ape and the Child in a previous post. Goma the Gorilla Baby, by Ernst M. Lang, has cute photos but isn't particularly enlightening. Ditto Christine the Baby Chimp, by Lilo Hess. I read half of Next of Kin by Roger Fouts a decade ago but need to revisit it. I also haven't read Infant Chimpanzee and Human Child by N. N. Ladygina-Kohts. Know of any others? Let me know!


  1. Shocking – Toto “insists” on normal mammal behavior, e.g., sleeping with her parents. It’s a shame that such a natural behavior (in humans and other mammals) continues to be stigmatized.

  2. What about Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp, dammit!

    PS: I went to school with Nim’s human sister…

  3. Nothing about how to raise your own children as apes? I was hoping my kids could have the advantage of being the smartest chimps in the jungle.

  4. One of the coolest Boing Boing posts ever.

    When I was pregnant with my first kid, I found myself reading as much primatology as I could lay my hands on. I think I assumed, correctly as it transpired, that this data would be more objective and applicable than Dr Sears or Babywise :)

  5. I mentioned it in a comment to a previous post but there’s also
    LITTLE BROTHER by June Johns.

    I don’t know the author or anything, and read it ages ago but found it interesting.

  6. I recommend checking out “An Ape Came Out Of My Hatbox”, written by a school teacher who ended up raising a young gibbon.

    Yet another case of a woman raising an ape, actually.

  7. Sometimes I wonder whether the loyalty and affection animals display towards their ‘owners’ and ‘handlers’ isn’t just an animal version of the Stockholm Syndrome.

  8. I took a psychology course from Dr. Temerlin in 1972. He did seem to get quite a kick out of telling rude stories. The class was good, though.

    The chimp sign language project with Drs. Fouts and Lemmon was going on at OU at that time. As a student volunteer, I gave Lucy and Booee drills on their repertoire of signs. Dr. Fouts has written a book, “Next of Kin: My Conversations with Chimpanzees”.

    I recall that Dr. Lemmon wasn’t one to shy away from the explicit story, either.

  9. Jesus, it’s a wonder Maury’s wife wasn’t the first woman to be successfully intergrated into the wild in Africa with a husband that nuts. I’d certainly have been inclined to…

  10. …an animal version of the Stockholm Syndrome.

    um, people are animals.

    Maybe more, but at least, animals.

  11. Well, you might read “Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would be Human” to get a perspective on all these ape-human families. Great list. This book has original research on some of the earliest chimp-human families. And then some!

  12. I went to a party at the house of Hester Mundis (author of “No He’s Not A Monkey, He’s An Ape And He’s My Son”) in the Catskills, completely unaware of her ape-raising, and wound up having a drink by her nightstand. There I saw many framed photos of various family members, and one framed photo of a large chimp, which I assumed was a joke. When I asked about it, I got the whole story, which was fascinating. She’s a heckuva lady.

  13. In elementary school, I read “Eva” by Peter Dickinson. It’s the story of a young girl whose brain is transplanted into the body of a chimpanzee after an accident.

    Here’s the review from Publisher’s Weekly: “Following a terrible car crash, Eva, 14, awakens from a strange dream and finds herself in a hospital bed. Medical science, in this book’s future setting, has allowed doctors to pull her functioning brain from her crushed body and put it into the able body of a chimpanzee. With the aid of a voice synthesizer, she communicates with others and adjusts to her new body; because her father is a scientist who has always worked among the chimps (who have been crowded by the massive human population out of any semblance of a natural world, and into iron and steel jungles), Eva is comfortable with her new self. She takes on the issue of animal rights, setting up (with the help of others, of course) an elaborate scheme to release chimps back into the last of the wild. Years later, that is where she dies. The story is riveting from the outset, especially as Dickinson details the ways in which Eva’s life is saved, and the progress of her recovery. As the story becomes more political, the author loses sight of some compelling questions he has sewn into the opening pages: Who owns her–the chimp’s owner, her parents, herself? Eva’s human aspect becomes a device that allows her to help other chimps survive, but is otherwise unquestioned. The drama is no less suspenseful for that, but it is less satisfying.”

  14. This is a subject that has fascinated me for years, starting after I saw incredible photographs by Robin Schwartz in her book Like Us: Primate Portraits. These photos are powerful and amazing and speak to me in volumes about human behavior by showing monkeys and apes entrenched in typical all-American human environments. While there is little text, you should really take a look and add it to your collection. Find a copy here:

  15. Here is another: A Chimp in the Family by Vince Smith 2004 New York: Marlowe and Co. (orginally published as “Sophie’s Story” London 2003

    And sorry to rain on the parade about a 1/2 year later but Lucy was not successfully reintroduced to Africa. She had to have a full time human trainer to help her integrate and it is believed that she later was shot by poachers or died. She apparently had alot of trouble adjusting to Africa since she didn’t have a clue of it even when joined with several other rescue chimps.

    Reading Tremerlin’s book today is like a horror show and you know he and his wife had to be smoking alot of pot back then too…

  16. I heard a part of a radio program about Lucy, the Chimp raised by the Timerilns referred to here in the boingboing site. If I understood the radio program correctly, a book has been written more recently about Lucy’s life with the Timerlins and others after the Timerlins, and about Lucy’s eventual return to the wild. I think the author was referred to as Charles Seebert, but I am not sure if that is correct. I have been unable to find this book searching the web. If anyone knows the title and author, please let me know.

  17. Thank you for the nice reviews! I recommend you “In my family tree” by Sheila Siddle; she began helping a baby chimp and endet up with a huge sanctuary with more than 80 chimps.A lot of funny, and some very tragic stories (like from a women almost killed by one of her chimps). I have also a copy of “Orang-utan” by Barbara Harrison, and “My friends the apes” by Belle J. Benchley, but I did not read them yet.

    I will try to get some of the books you recommend. In the meantime let me know if you have an interesting story about apes interacting with water (this is the topic of my PhD). I am specially interested in apes able to swim or dive (I know, they normally do not able to do this), but also in apes having intensive contact with water, or apes falling in moats, etc.

  18. Where can I get a copy of christine the baby chimp from? Have searched for years as I want to give a copy to my daughter. Sally

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