My initial feeling upon leaving Project Nim was something akin to Werner Herzog’s closing monologue in Grizzly Man—I felt nothing for the animal. While others looked into Nim’s eyes and saw flickers of humanity, depth, tenderness, all I could see was its cold instinct. Every hug was punctuated by either a vicious bite or a beg for food.
There was no instance of it sharing or displaying any concern for its companions unless it was for Nim’s own selfish benefit. The best that can be said for it is that the creature’s offenses can be excused because it is, after all, a wild animal.
Nim is Nim Chimpsky, a chimpanzee taken from his mother at birth (and the Oklahoma chimp farm where he was born) and made the subject of Herbert Terrace’s, Columbia professor of Primate Studies, experiment. Terrace wanted to see if a chimp raised as a human child and taught sign language could converse with other humans.