Sapientbonobos and Sapientchimpanzees

Sapient Bonobos
Image from Steve Bowers

During the twentieth century efforts were made to study the languages of mammals and birds, with limited success; other efforts were made to attempt to teach a few species (some anthropoid apes, dolphins and parrots) human or artificial languages. The program to teach sign language to chimpanzees and gorillas seemed to yield results, until analysis of the experiments were made by deaf native sign language users, who were unable to recognise the so-called signing by the animals concerned..

It was determined that language ability was determined at a deep level within the structure of the brain of the various species, and the various animal genome databases that were being developed slowly began to throw light on the details of the mechanism. Improvements in DNA scanning techniques allowed thousands of species to have complete genome maps completed during the early twenty-first century c.e., including many mammals. It was gradually determined which gene complexes were common between related species and which were unique to the species concerned. A number of human gene complexes were found to be unique, especially those concerned with language ability; these were closely related to patterns found in other mammals, and it was expected that controlled gene splicing could improve the language abilities of certain species..

The first non-human species to receive gene modification for improved intelligence and language ability was the pygmy chimpanzee or Bonobo. In 78 AT Sally Tanenhaus, an enthusiastic and brilliant young gene therapy specialist working for the anational Distributed Bioengineering Institute, with funding grants from the new startup company IntronTEK, Inc., discovered the relationship between the language related segments of the bonobo genome and the human equivalent. Allowing the modified neural tissue to complete an additional round of cell division in the brain also increased the processing capacity of the chimp to a significant extent.

Computer modelling showed that modification of these complexes would very likely produce a viable animal; some simulations by the powerful subturing computers connected to the Distributed College intranet also suggested a substantial increase in intelligence would also result. However the United Nations and the World Council of Churches were quickly made aware of the development and the existing Animal Cruelty legislation was extended to prevent intelligence modification of animal germ lines. So the hypothetical 'talking chimp' genome remained a virtual construction only. IntronTek, Inc. meanwhile concentrated on human gene therapy, and became one of the most powerful corporations in this period, although many lines of research were constrained by legislation.

Tanenhaus was encouraged to continue her work using virtual modelling techniques, but she threatened to publish the genome as freeware to allow independent companies the ability to produce living specimens. IntronTek, Inc. revealed that it had detailed plans for the development of the 'talking chimp' in the newly established anational floating city of Sargassa, which was not a signatory of the UN conventions on genetic engineering. Over the next thirty-five years she worked on the project, secretly at first, because the first attempts were not in fact viable after all, but when the first successful juveniles were produced she went public, and the scientific community and the world watched in shock and fascination as the first individuals learned to talk. It became evident that the intelligence of the talking bonobo, and also the greater chimp modification developed a few years later, was similar to that of a twelve year old human, coupled with the full competency of the adult chimpanzee at maturity. Sargassa was placed under United Nations embargo and no specimens of the new species, named Pan sapiens and Pan sophans, were allowed to leave until after the Ocean conflict between Azania and Indonesia in 96 c.e.

The young adult talking Bonobo, Jane, was introduced to the public at a press conference in Dakar in 113 AT (breaking the UN embargo); her simple plea 'I do not want to be lonely' won over some animal rights sympathisers, but the fact that IntronTek, Inc. held the patent for her entire species enraged many more, causing widespread demonstrations in the world's capitals. Lacking a common cause, the anti-GE activists, animal rights and religious extremists were unable to unite sufficiently to prevent the eventual acceptance (by the WHO) of both varieties of talking chimps as having the right to exist and to multiply as new species.

Another factor that worked towards acceptance was the backing of several biogeneering corporations eager to implement the virtual genetic modifications to the human genome that were also outlawed at that time. Over the next few decades Tanenhaus's work stimulated experiments in augmenting the intelligence of other species, including domestic cats and dogs, and the results were generally impressive, and compared favourably to the best biochipped pets. All faced opposition, including acts of sabotage, from animal rights groups, religious extremists, and neo-luddites. Tanenhaus lost financial control over her creations after a lengthy legal battle, but was not forgotten by the chimps themselves.

For several decades each new individual when born was the property of IntronTek. and were treated as a commodity, but the species were too self-willed and unpredictable to make good pets, too rebellious to be employed as fully owned slave workers, and were soon replaced as novelty actors in the film industry (after a brief period of success) by more reliable CGI. Eventually the trade in talking chimps was ruled to be subject to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and subject to strict regulation.

By the 3rd century AT the Pan sapiens and Pan sophans clades were fully recognised intelligent species. Both clades, despite their (often intense) rivalry and different psychological dispositions, always had the greatest affection for Tanenhaus, who became a saintly figure and martyr in their belief-constructs. As soon as the sapientchimps started to gain some measure of independence, and were no longer harmless curiosities, both chimp clades established communities in the Orbital colonies. Their quick minds, great dexterity and tremendous strength and coordination made it easy for them to find employment among the beamjacks and construction workers, who were not offended by their childlike mischievousness and, with only a few exceptions, generally treated them with more tolerance and acceptance than most of the baselines back on Earth.

By the 4th century the Sapientbonobos and Sapientchimpanzees had established small independent colonies in the Belt and the outer moons. The talking Bonobos, when they free to associate as they pleased, tended to form small, matriarchal, polymorphous sex-obsessed societies, while the talking greater chimpanzees were more aggressive and hierarchical. Although the territorial markers that generated such a response could be bred out via gengineering, or controlled thru biochips, the provolved chimps never allowed this. They considered their aggression to be their strength, and said that if their Mother the Saintly Hominid Tanenhaus had some of that fighting spirit She would have easily slain the entire executive board of IntronTek, Inc.

In general the sapientchimps always had good relations with the GeneTEKers and Space Adapts, both of whom regarded them with bemused affection, as rather simple and childlike cousins. Few sapientchimps were among the early colonists to the nearby star systems, but their far flung biospheres in the outer Sol System, along with the societies of the Kuiper GeneTEKers, the Space adapts, Backgrounders, and other stealth and paranoid cultures, were hardly touched by the nanarchy and the resulting dark ages. Many Greater Sapientchimps never forgave the baselines for their oppression of their own kind and joined the network of stealth societies - called the Shadow Federation - in the Oort cloud and beyond. Populations of Sapientbonobos accompanied the GeneTEK relocation to Lalande 21185 and eventually to Frog's Head, Sirius, the Barnard Belt, and also established a large population at Halcyon (20 Leo Minoris). During the First Federation the superbright (Pan superior) and transapient races of sapientchimps began to develop their own very nonhuman advanced cultures and explore the new worlds of the Age of Expansion.

A single backyarder relativist starship, built by the chimps themselves, reached Delta Eridani (Rana) in approximately 1000 a.t. with a complement of both greater sapientchimps and sapientbonobos. Life support systems had failed, but all lives on board were reconstituted from genetic and neural backup information at the new colony at HR 8323, renamed Bolobo, after the town where the bonobo subspecies was first identified. After many millennia of development in the Bolobo system the Greater Sapientchimps broke away, and have carved out a growing and warlike independent empire in the outer Centaurus sector, one of many diverse sapientchimp polities in the outer Terragen sphere.

 
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Development Notes
Text by M. Alan Kazlev and Steve Bowers

Initially published on 04 July 2003.