Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts, Biology, Publicity

Wattana: An Orangutan in Paris

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Wattana: An Orangutan in Paris tells the story of the titular primate, who (to cite the book’s jacket copy) “drinks tea, sews, draws on papers and is a self-taught master of tying and untying knots.” Again, and true to the title, it was in Paris where author Chris Herzfeld first fell in like with Wattana, who lives in the Jardin des Plantes Zoo, and where she began her expansive chronicle of primates in captivity—from the first arrival of orangutans from Europe in 1776 to the experience of caretakers and their captive subjects in several contemporary zoos. Along the way, Herzfeld’s research confirmed an ominous likelihood: scientists anticipate that orangutans will disappear from the wild by 2030. The book epitomizes recent efforts by the University of Chicago Press to lead the field in scholarship on human-animal relationships, capped off by our new Animal Lives series, and showcased in the bond that develops between Herzfeld and Wattana, which extends beyond the anthropological into the intimacies of daily life.

In the meantime, Herzfeld has produced a series of videos documenting Wattana’s activities. Below, you’ll see a nine minute clip in which she ties and unties knots in over twenty different sequences, each more complex than the previous, until she begins to make something approaching  . . . her own hammock. If you’re interested, you can see more here and here and also here.

To read more about Wattana, click here.