This week I watched a special on Animal Planet called: My Wild Affair: The Ape Who Went To College.
It's the story of Chantek, a baby orangutan, who was raised by a scientist, Dr. Lyn Miles, at a University of Tenessee campus back in the 70's. She taught him sign language using an immersion approach which is similar to how human children learn language.
Chantek became a proficient signer and bonded well with his foster mother and the other team members.
It's an interesting story about changes in scientific and social perspective but that's not what held my attention.
Dr. Miles went through a lot of the same challenges that I'm going through. Chantek was very observant and an accomplished escape artist. Two checkmarks which appear in Alex's column as well. They had to use intensive behavioural intervention to get Chantek to do various tasks. Okay, duh on that comparison.
They used a token system with washers for Chantek to buy a ride in the car to the Dairy Queen drive-thru and get a treat. This is now starting to sound eerily familiar, except for the washers part.
Chantek had trouble with aggression. So does Alex, but this is where the similarities stop, I hope.
Chantek was imprisoned in a research facility after allegedly attacking a female student. (The description of the attack is vague enough to make me wonder if it was simply a misguided attempt at connection.) He went from roaming a college campus to being locked in a five by five cell for nine years.
After the facility, he was transferred to a zoo, where he still lives. He suffers from boredom and depression, despite having other orangutans to spend time with.
It made me cry when Dr. Miles, who has been forbidden to spend more time with him, came as a member of the public to see him. He saw her and signed "Go home" and then asked for ice cream. He's been locked away for almost two decades and still doesn't understand why he's been separated from his family.
It made me think of Alex and his aggression, which may well prompt the government to remove him from our care if we can't control it. He wouldn't understand being locked away any more than Chantek does.
I hope I never need to find out.