After reading the many responses to the video of Koko’s message to COP21, I was reminded of a footnote in primatologist Richard Wrangham’s excellent study of our closest ancestors “The Daemonic Male.” I remember reading it when studying primatology in our first year Anthropology & Archaeology Tripos at Cambridge and I have shared its contents at many parties and over many drinks, over and over again. Wrangham’s book looks at the great apes (chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, and bonobos) and the cultural similarities (anthropomorphic behavior) they display: chimpanzees have gang warfare, gorillas infanticide, orangutans domestic violence, and the bonobos saving grace of a peaceful matriarchal society. But the favorite footnote was an anecdote by a primatologist observing a young chimp whose mother was pregnant. During her pregnancy, the young chimp began caring for a log – bathing the log, carrying the log, cradling the log. Almost as if he had invented a doll in anticipation of his future sibling, and in doing so, exhibited signs of having an imagination. I loved this footnote so much. I do not know enough about Koko’s cognitive abilities or whether she was prompted by her trainer or caregiver to sign the filmed message for COP21, but I suspect she is capable of both self-awareness, however simple (yes, she is flowers), and empathy, which lay the foundation for the imagination (many poets would agree we are all flowers), the basis for the birth of culture and what means to be human.
I, too, am flowers.