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December 1996
My Brother's Keeper: A Reflection on Booee

By Roger S. Fouts and Deborah Fouts



"The question is not, can they reason? Nor, can they talk? But, can they suffer?" - Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)

Two years ago, Hugh Downs of the television program 20/20 took primatologist Roger Fouts to the Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates (LEMSIP) at the New York University School of Medicine in upstate New York. There, Dr. Fouts met with Booee, the chimpanzee to whom he had taught American sign-language 17 years before. Although Roger and Booee had not seen each other at all in the interim, as soon as he saw Roger, Booee became very excited and signed to Roger not only the sign for his, Booee's, name, but also the sign for Roger's name. In addition, Booee remembered much of the sign language he had been taught. Roger was unable to stay long with Booee: after Roger left, Booee retreated to a corner of his cage, clearly depressed. Roger Fouts describes how he met Booee and what his life has been like since.

Many of you may have seen the 20/20 piece on my reunion with Booee, televised on May 5, 1995. It was something that I did not want to do and now understand why. Booee is in my dreams. I see him over and over again moving away from me, with a heart-rending demeanor, as I tell him I must leave. I had hoped that he would not recognize me and would see me as just one more lab-coated visitor passing through the facility. But Booee recognized me immediately - after 17 years he remembered me and it was as if time had not passed. We were playing the same games and our relationship had not changed. He was still the dear little boy who had taught me so much during my fledgling years as a new Ph.D. I was torn by the joy of finding an old and dear friend and the heartache of knowing that I would have to leave him in a few short hours. Was it worth it? I do not know. I can only hope that the number of viewers who watched and became aware of the plight of captive chimpanzees was worth the pain Booee and I suffered when I told him I had to leave.

What happened to Booee - his experiences with science - is unfortunately not atypical for chimpanzees.


Booee was born at a biomedical facility. The staff was unaware that his mother was even pregnant, so Booee's arrival was a surprise. It was also an unexpected addition to the facility and his future was not charted as far as being used in a specific study. He was a "free" chimp, and an unexpected bonus. Having an unexpected baby is a chance to try out "hot" new procedures that are only read about in journals. Booee made his first mistake when he was a few days old. He convulsed, which made some of the researchers feel that he might be epileptic. The hot new operation in those days was to do "split brain" research, which recently has been discovered to be a treatment for grand mal seizures. So Booee had his brain split when he was only a few days old. This operation was relatively benign. It involved cutting all the connections between the two cerebral hemispheres, in essence giving Booee two separate brains. This was accomplished by cutting the corpus collosum. Booee's surgery had a few problems. The surgeons had to go back and open his cranium to control the edema. In other words, his brain was so swollen because of the operation that they had to open his cranium to relieve the pressure.

Not all biomedical types are consumed with overweening ambition. One of the doctors, Fred Schneider, took pity on the poor little chimp, in agonizing pain and with a bandaged head, and took him home to recuperate with his family of six children.

Booee's new home proved to offer a great life. His surrogate parents enjoyed him and he became very attached to his human mother and his new family. When he was 10 months of age, his family went wilderness camping and didn't think that they could take him along. He was left with baby sitters. He had become so attached that he fell into a depression, developed pneumonia and was close to death when the Schneiders returned. Fortunately he recovered. He continued to grow and, at the age of three, his human parents began to discover that baby chimps are very much like human babies. They actually demand mothering and are different as they grow up. For example, the living room drapes become vines to climb on, and cupboards had to be locked with strong locks to prevent this inquisitive chimp with a "sweet tooth" from raiding the larder.

There were other problems. Booee's normal chimp sense of territory got him in trouble. If a stranger walked by the house on the sidewalk or if a dog dared to enter the yard, Booee would do a threat display - as befitting a very proper chimpanzee - to drive the intruder away. Each display would end with a backhand thump hitting a large picture window. One winter after the window had broken yet again, the Schneiders had to board the windows to keep the cold out, and it became obvious to these good people that their house was not a proper home for a chimpanzee. They were faced with a dilemma. If they returned him to the lab, he would surely be used in biomedical experiments. By this time, Dr. Schneider had visited Allen and Beatrice Gardner and the chimp Washoe, and from them had learned of a facility which at that time was devoted to behavioral research. In 1970, shortly before Washoe arrived at the facility, Booee and his entire human family drove in their van from Maryland to the Institute of Primate Studies at the University of Oklahoma. Parting with Booee was traumatic for the entire Schneider family and they wept as they drove to Oklahoma.

In Oklahoma

When they arrived, they were invited to spend the night as guests of the director of the Institute and his wife. The Schneiders' children were concerned that Booee would not get his favorite foods and told the director's wife to remember that Booee liked brown sugar with his morning oatmeal. The Schneider family reported feeling physical pain when they left Booee to begin his new life the next morning.

Booee became one of the Oklahoma chimps to whom I and my students began teaching American Sign Language. Several years later, the director of the Institute decided to change the direction of the Institute and sought a contract from the pharmaceutical company Merck Sharp and Dome to do hepatitis research. The director did not get that contract, but eventually sent all of the chimps he owned to the lab which received the contract. Thus, yet again, Booee became lost in the biomedical research community from which his human parents had hoped to protect him. He was again subjected to research and has spent the past 16 years in conditions like those seen on 20/20 - alone in a bare cage with no stimuli and certainly no-one with whom to speak. Booee is now a carrier of the Hepatitis C virus, for which there is presently no cure.

For those of you who saw the 20/20 piece and were as moved as I was by Booee's plight, remember the quote that begins this article. Booee's mastery of the signs of ASL does not make him any more or less of a chimpanzee; indeed, I am certain that all chimpanzees have this capacity. The important thing to remember is that there are at least 1700 other chimpanzees who are living, and being exploited by our species, in biomedical research institutions around the country. They are prisoners who have never committed a crime.

They are tortured for no other reason than they happen to bear a striking resemblance to humans. They are our brothers and sisters, and we are their Cains. It is unimportant whether or not Booee should happen to know how to sign, or to remember my name. The most important fact to remember about Booee and all the chimpanzees in captivity is that they have the same capacity to suffer as do you or I. Just as our country is ashamed of what our ancestors have done to people who were considered to be different from us, by exploiting them as slaves or as children in our factories, so too somebody will our children be ashamed of what we do today to our sibling species, the chimpanzee.

Roger S. Fouts specializes in primate communication, primate behavior, animal learning, and language intervention with non-communicating children. Deborah Fouts specializes in animal communication, comparative psychology, primate behavior, and the psychological well-being of chimps. This article is an edited version reprinted from the Friends of Washoe newsletter. For more information, contact Friends of Washoe at the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute, Central Washington University, 400 East 8th Avenue, Ellensburg, WA 98926-7573 or call 509-963-2244.

Some Additional Notes

Booee Update

by Martine Collette

Booee has been released from LEMSIP. The following is excerpted from a letter from Martine Collette, the director of Wildlife Waystation in California.

On October 23, 1995, the Wildlife Waystation received nine chimpanzees from LEMSIP. Dr. James Mahoney, director of that facility, worked intensively with the Waystation to ensure the safe passage of these wonderful animals. These highly intelligent beings, including Booee, will spend their retirement years at the Wildlife Waystation.

For their new guests, Waystation staff and volunteers constructed nine primate quarantine enclosures at a cost of approximately $150,000. The "rooms" are comfortably large and airy. The wire fronts allow the chimps to view green shrubbery and trees, hillsides and the enlivening sights and sounds of California birds, lizards, squirrels and insects. The roof covering the enclosures includes more than a dozen skylights. Available to the chimps are climbing devices including platforms, ropes and tires. To challenge as well as comfort the mind, sources of animal enrichment including people, music, television, books, magazines and toys are available.

A couple of weeks after the chimps arrived, three of them developed mild diarrhea, presumably due to an abrupt change of environment, food and water. Typically, their diarrhea was resolved with medical therapy within a few days, with no further symptoms or complications. Spike was the exception. His diarrhea, although mild, continued for the next two weeks despite medical intervention to prevent dehydration. He developed a jaundiced appearance and was immediately evaluated for liver malfunction. We identified several diseases which included both the liver and kidneys. Matching plasma was flown in for Spike from New York and transfused daily. His condition improved significantly. His attitude and appetite improved and his jaundice seemed to be getting better. After several more days of recuperation and improvement, Spike was discovered one morning lying dead on his straw and blanket-covered sleeping area. Two separate pathologists reviewed tissue samples and their reports agreed that the liver had been diseased for a long time. In addition, both the kidneys and heart were diseased. Spike fought the good fight and he is sorely missed.

The rest of the chimps are doing very well. Their number remains nine - for even though we lost dear Spike, we received another chimp from Pennsylvania named Sammy who joined the others in quarantine. To date, six of them have been successfully socialized into various and changing combinations and we will continue in these efforts. Eventually I hope to include all the animals. To complicate our task, however, some of the "boys" are really people oriented and don't know how to "be chimpanzees."

The different ages and temperaments of the chimps must also be taken into consideration while enriching their lives by socializing them with their own kind. Rufe, at 39 years old, is the elder statesman of the group and may present some challenges all his own. We take it a day at a time and are constantly working to improve the chimpanzees' lives. At present, everyone is hale, hearty and happy. Plans are currently underway for a permanent chimpanzee "retirement village" which will house up to 50 primates in multiple indoor/outdoor enclosures and will cost us over $500,000.

Martine Collette would like to thank to Maria Schneider for additional information about Booee's early years. For more information, contact the Wildlife Waystation, 14831 Little Tujunga Canyon Road, Angeles National Forest, CA 91342-5999 or call 818-899-5201.


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