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Janis Carter

I chose to live with chimpanzees

For six and a half years, Janis Carter lived with a group of chimpanzees in the Gambia, says Peter Stanford in The Sunday Telegraph. Breaking off all contact with other humans, she climbed trees and foraged for termites and grubs, sleeping at night in a cage with her few possessions.

This “extraordinary chapter in human-animal interaction” began in 1976. Carter, then a 26-year-old student at the University of Oklahoma, began caring for a chimp called Lucy that was being raised by a local academic and his wife. They would put her in a dress and take her to cocktail parties. When the couple took Lucy to Africa to release her into the wild, Carter went with them.

But having been raised by humans, “Lucy didn’t know how to be a chimp.” So Carter decided to jettison her boyfriend and job to stay on until Lucy had learnt to live independently. She took her, along with nine other chimps that needed resettling, to an uninhabited island in the Gambia River. This new family “fulfilled all my human needs”, Carter says in Lucy, the Human Chimp, a Channel 4 documentary. She kept track of what time of year it was by noting when different trees came into fruit, and in the evenings, when she and the chimps would sit on a jetty watching the sunset, she found herself feeling that “civilisation was an abstract concept”.

Paradise was eventually lost when one of the male chimps dragged Carter through a thorn bush. She had to leave the island. A year later, she returned to pay Lucy a visit. “Finally independent and integrated”, Lucy hugged Carter tight, then “walked away without a backward look”.

Watch Lucy, the Human Chimp here.