Yesterday I stumbled across an article at The Atlantic on the mental health of animals (“Brian the Mentally Ill Bonobo, and How He Healed
It took a troop of apes, and a psychiatrist, and a little Paxil“). In it, Alexis Madrigal looks at Brian, a bonobo whose mental health was poor, leaving him with the inability to “eat in front of others and required a series of repeated, OCD-like rituals before he’d take food.” He often ” just curl up into the fetal position and scream.”
“He also hurt himself over and over,” writes Madrigal, “tearing off his own fingernails and intentionally cutting his genitals. He was socially outcast, left to clap his hands, spin in circles, and stare blankly at walls by himself.”
Realizing that something was wrong, some of the other bonobos gave him room. “Kitty, a 49-year-old blind female, and Lody, a 27-year-old male, spent time with Brian. When he panicked, Lody sometimes led him by the hand to their playpen at the Milwaukee County Zoo.”
Animal Madness: How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots, and Elephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves by Laurel Braitman (June 2014)
Available at Amazon
Brian’s story makes it’s place among other animals in Animal Madness: How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots, and Elephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves by Laurel Braitman.
To Brian’s aid came Harry Prosen, chair of the psychiatry department at the Medical College of Wisconsin; he “took Brian on as his first non-human patient.” It sounds like Brian’s father, who repeatedly assaulted him sexually, had his own issues, as he was traumatized as a research animal. In Brian’s case, researchers set out to help repair the damage done.
Bonobos are mostly peaceful primates and very sexual—their socially acceptable tool ending aggression and fostering peaceful relationships—though they aren’t generally sexually violent. They get it on with just about anyone at any age, though relatives (if I understand correctly) often restrain themselves.
Madrigal’s article refers to bonobos in general as “perversely sexual,” a phrase that unduly imposes human standards on bonobos. Perversity suggests social abnormality and having lots of sex—even if the average bonobo copulation is only 13 seconds—is hardly abnormal for bonobos. Abusive family relationships and the mess they leave in their wake, as human as that may be, appears to also be a bonobo issue as well. If Brian’s father was abused as a research animal, perhaps we taught it to them.
Animal Madness sounds like a fascinating book an I’ll be adding it to my TBR. Read the full article at The Atlantic