Lucy the Human Chimp, a new television documentary from HBO and Channel 4, explores… the story of one unique relationship: that between Lucy, a chimpanzee raised as a human, and Janis Carter, a graduate student hired to clean her cage. Through the late 1960s, Lucy was the subject of a high-profile study by psychologists Maurice and Jane Temerlin, ostensibly to explore the limits of nature versus nurture.
The Temerlins brought Lucy up in their home more or less as though she was a human child, to the point of teaching her to dress herself, eat with silverware and even fix a gin and tonic.
After a frosty start – Carter remembers the chimp as “arrogant, and very condescending” about her poor comprehension of sign language – the two forged a close bond. But the adolescent chimp increasingly posed a threat to her human family, and was confined to a cage.
In 1977, the Temerlins decided to take 12-year-old Lucy to Gambia to be taught how to live in the wild; Carter went along to help.
Just as Lucy was raised a human, Carter lived as a chimp. But, after the best part of a decade, she had to extract herself and return to her own kind, she says: “I couldn’t live in both worlds.”