The farewell that Mama, the dying 59-year-old chimpanzee, shared with her caretaker, the biologist Jan van Hoof, was remarkable for the profound emotions they shared. Mama was sad to leave him, but responded to his sadness by comforting him.
The moment, caught on video, opens renowned primatologist and animal behavior expert Frans de Waal’s new book Mama’s Last Hug. It provides another of de Waal’s fascinating explorations into the social and emotional lives of chimps, bonobos, and other primates—and its influence on how we think of human nature.
De Waal discusses facial expressions, the emotional side of human politics, the illusion of free will, animal sentience and consciousness, and, of course, Mama’s life and death. He distinguishes between emotions and feelings, emphasizing the continuity between our species and other species. And he makes the radical proposal that emotions are like organs: We don’t have a single organ that other animals don’t have, and the same is true for our emotions.
He also describes behavioral experiments conducted with rats, horses, dogs, dolphins, elephants, and other primates, which provide further proof that humans are not the only species with the capacity for love, hate, fear, shame, joy, generosity, and empathy.
Mama’s Last Hug (W.W. Norton) is available for sale and signing.
Freer Gallery of Art
Eugene & Agnes E. Meyer Auditorium
12th St & Independence Ave SW
(Enter on Independence Ave side)