The second semester of my freshman year of college I was desperate to transfer. I wasn’t a huge fan of the social scene and I would do anything to get out of Texas. I had planned to go abroad for a year to Costa Rica to live at a research station in Monte Verde Cloud Forest. I was leaning away from studying medicine and changing my major to biology and journalism. I wanted to study animals and write about them! What kinds of animals? Well, I just wasn’t so sure yet.
I was ecstatic because I was going to get to take my first grown up animal related class; Anthropology 3302: Monkeys and Apes: Non-Human Primates. I had never been a huge fan of monkeys. I didn’t really know anything about them. I thought they were just nasty and mean. I had a fondness for lemurs, but they weren’t monkeys, they were lemurs. They were like cute, smart, little squirrels. Okay, give me a break now I know that they’re not squirrels, but I was young and stupid.
SMU is not a school for people who want to student animals, so ANTH 3302 was the only thing I could take to broaden my animal-based horizons. I sat in the second row with a fresh notepad and so much excitement I could hardly contain myself. I, of course, was alone in that feeling. The class was full of upperclassmen looking for an easy A and a class to drink in.
This was the semester of my first two anthropology classes, the other being an introductory course, so you could also say it played a pretty significant role in my education because I did eventually change my major to anthropology and devote the rest of my studies to learning more and more about primates.
That class was my first actual exposure to learning about animal behavior and anatomy. I was entranced. It was easy. I had never had such a fun time memorizing anything in my entire life. This class wasn’t work! It was fun! Why can’t all of college just be primate classes? I had never had that much interest in great apes before. Okay, okay, I had had no interest in great apes before that class, but boy did that change afterward. I had a whole new appreciation for their intelligence, all of those intricate stories that made up their lives.
So while I wrote my species monograph on Lemur catta or the ring-tailed lemur, I grew disinterested. They were cute and all, but wow, chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans and gorillas. Their minds were fantastic. It was what had always drawn me to dolphins and elephants as well. How could we keep these animals in captivity? How could we not offer them the same basic rights we allowed people? How could we keep them as pets? So there, in the Fondren Science Building with Professor Fried, was where my love of great apes began.