Maya lays on a wooden platform outdoors with her chin on her hand

Questions of Cross-Fostering on Maya’s Birthday

This month we celebrate Maya’s 43rd birthday. Maya was raised like a human child for the first years of her life in a cross-fostering experiment. In this experiment the young of one species is raised by another and is used to tease apart the effects of innate behaviors versus acquired behaviors. Does a duck quack like a duck because it is genetic or because the learned to quack from her parents? A cross-fostering experiment would help us understand this. We could take a duck egg and put it in a goose nest. The duck is reared by the geese. As she matures we listen to the sounds she makes… does she quack or honk? She certainly would miss her kind.

Maya was one of four chimpanzees in this research at the University of Montreal in the late 1970’s. Sophie, Spock, and Merlin were the other three young chimpanzees, raised in conditions that resembled a human rearing environment. When the research ended, the chimpanzees were sent to the Quebec City Zoo. Merlin died there in the zoo. In 2007 the zoo closed and Maya, Spock, and Sophie moved to Fauna Foundation.

Maya is the only surviving member of that group. She has new friends at Fauna and gets along easily with other chimpanzees.

Her story raises questions about the ethics of these early cross-fostering studies, and what happened to these young chimpanzees? Today captive chimpanzees are an endangered species, and this research would be very unlikely in the US and Canada.

Maya sits on an indoor platform, smiling with her bottom teeth (cross-fostering, birthday)
Maya – Photo © Justin Taus

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