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The Pugwash Conferences


Work on pygmy chimps didn’t do much for Zaire
Carl Djerassi Scientist
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This work on pygmy chimps didn’t do much for Zaire. In fact, it did practically nothing, but in the scientific sense it clearly was very useful, because it really facilitated, greatly, serious biochemical work. There was a lot done on blood and hormonal levels, and behavioural studies with pygmy chimps, which crystal clearly demonstrated that the bonobo were the closest relative to humans, and in theory would be the ideal animal model, if you want to use at all an animal model for reproductive behaviour. Now, for that... that would, of course, only work if, in fact, you could breed them, and breed them, not only humanely, but then therefore... and that was my idea, not only breed them in a way that would be free breeding namely on an island, so you would not have to enclose them, but secondly in a place where you want to be sure that the endangered population gets replenished, so that would have been the ideal thing. Well this is priority zero, obviously, both for the Zaire government, the American Government, or anyone else at this point, but that was the idea behind it. And I think, if I would do it all over again I, both for personal pleasure, and I think, even for the intellectual challenge, I probably would have done it again.

Austrian-American Carl Djerassi (1923-2015) was best known for his work on the synthesis of the steroid cortisone and then of a progesterone derivative that was the basis of the first contraceptive pill. He wrote a number of books, plays and poems, in the process inventing a new genre, 'science-in-fiction', illustrated by the novel 'Cantor's Dilemma' which explores ethics in science.

Listeners: Tamara Tracz

Tamara Tracz is a writer and filmmaker based in London.

Tags: Zaire, pygmy chimps, bonobo

Duration: 1 minute, 19 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008