Just Shelley

Beauty is in the eye

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Boing Boing re-published a photo found on Flickr of a hairless male chimp at the Mysore Zoo in India.

hairless chimp

Chances are this chimp suffered from the same hereditary disease that Cinder, the chimp who recently died at the St. Louis zoo, did: alopecia universalis. The condition is rare among chimps, so I’m not surprised that people aren’t aware of what the chimp was suffering from. I was surprised, though at the reaction of the Boing Boing author, a person who is supposedly a science writer.

I am so sorry.

I ran across this image while searching for something to illustrate that last post and just can’t not share it.

Again. My apologies. Rest assured, I’m going to have nightmares tonight, too. We’re all in this together.

I would have expected some discomfort from some folk. After all, Cinder was once featured at Ugly Overload. But I also would have expected a science writer to be more fascinated by the chimp’s physiology, then repelled. Or to note his similarity to humans, as PZ Myers noted. I didn’t expect someone with a scientific background to go, “Ewww. Ugggi!”

I was also a little surprised to read Short, Sharp Science’s take on the photo: that the chimp is suffering from chimpsploitation.

But unless the poor animal is naturally bald, it seems that he is suffering from stress-related hair loss. From the expression on his face (and it is obviously a male) he doesn’t looks like he’s the most well-adjusted of animals. It’s sure to spark more arguments about the welfare of animals in captivity.

It’s true that hairless chimps are rare, but a single search of “hairless chimp” in Google returns thousands of references to our Cinder, and other hairless chimps. We need to be careful about reading our biases into interpretation of photos, particularly so if we call ourselves “scientists”.

For instance, as to the charge of chimpsloitation of this hairless chimp, The Mysore Zoo in India is one of the oldest in the world, and the most popular in India. It did have problems a few years back, when a new Zoo administration eliminated corrupt practices, and several employees exacted revenge by poisoning several animals. In addition, the training of some of its personnel can be deficient, the result of which cost the life of a tigress and another female elephant. However, it is not a “bad” zoo, if we think of bad zoos as those miserable roadside attractions that occur all too frequently in the US. The Mysore Zoo just reflects the multi-cultural environment that makes up today’s India.

I am glad to have seen these stories, as I’ve been trying to track other hairless chimps. I wish, though, that people would see beyond the “difference” of these hairless chimps—to admire their musculature, and accept our common heritage. And to answer another frequently posted question about hairless chimps: chimps are born with pale skin that tans to a darker shade as they are exposed to the sun.

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