1. How old is Chantek and how much does he weigh?
Chantek was born on December 17, 1977, and is now twenty-two years old. His mother was Datu and his father was Kampong, both wild-caught orangutans. Chantek was born at the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center, and came to live with Dr. Miles at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga when he was nine months old. Great apes under human care can live up to fifty-five years. Chantek weighs about 250 lbs. He has some half-siblings.
2. Why was Chantek “adopted”?
Dr. Miles “adopted” Chantek as her cross-foster son as part of Project Chantek, an effort to explore the cultural and language capacity of a nonhuman intelligence at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Dr. Miles would like to become Chantek’s legal guardian due to their unique, over twenty-year relationship.
3. What is his favorite color?
Chantek loves the colors black and red and makes hauntingly beautiful paintings that evoke a feeling of Japanese calligraphy.
4. What is Chantek’s favorite food?
His favorite food, based on his own requests, is MEAT. Being enculturated Chantek ate a variety of meats growing up, including cheeseburgers, his most favorite. His current zoo diet contains only vegetable proteins. He also loves figs, apples, and ice cream.
5. Does Chantek live alone?
No, Chantek has a community of both human and orangutan companions. Besides Dr. Miles, whom he calls MOTHER or LYN, Chantek works with Kathy Piscitello (Chantek Foundation Secretary). Chantek’s human companions also include Laura Mayo, Christine Mallar, and David Adcock (whom he calls KEY MAN) who care for the orangutans at Zoo Atlanta. Chantek can see a number of orangutans such as Allen, J.T., and Daisy, as well as some nearby gorillas and human visitors to the Zoo. Chantek lives with Biji a female companion whom he calls OLD and HAIRY, but with whom he also SHARES food.
6. How did Chantek learn sign language?
Dr. Miles first taught Chantek some of our cultural rules for following directions, conversation, turn-taking, games—all the cultural processes by which children learn personhood and roles in society. Chantek learned his first signs FOOD-EAT and DRINK after one month. At first Chantek learned signs by molding his hands; by four years of age Chantek learned by imitation. Chantek has even invented some of his own signs, e.g., VIEWMASTER, and DAVE-MISSING-FINGER.
7. Why is culture so important?
We have long wondered how intelligent the apes might be, and have speculated about possible nonhuman intelligence elsewhere in the Universe. But, to make CONTACT and create a meaning bridge with another species, we have to have a common understanding of the way things are done and the way we think of the world. This is CULTURE. Increasingly, ape language projects are turning to culture and cultural transmission as a key focus in their work, e.g., the Language Research Center work by Dr. Sue Savage. Dr. Anne Russon has also emphasized the dual-cultured nature of the orangutans she has studied in Borneo (see her book, Wizards of the Rain Forest).
8. Can I see Chantek?
No, unfortunately, until we have a facility such as the Primate Cultural Center, Chantek is off-exhibit. Hopefully, Dr. Miles, and Zoo Director Dr. Terry Maple, can find or create a suitable enculturation environment for Chantek. It is very important that this include dominant cultural elements for Chantek’s well-being, which, understandably, suffers if it is not fulfilled. We are interested in meeting with corporate and other sponsors/donors who would like to hear more about our plans for possible support.