Veterinarian Junki Uyama of Fukuoka, Japan, a port city 550 miles from Tokyo, has found an ideal assistant. He sleeps in, has a gentle cageside manner with the patients and works for peanuts—well, bananas and the occasional salad anyway.
The assistant, Chosuke, is 7, and a chimpanzee. Uyama got him from a Tokyo pet importer in 1974 and named him after a Japanese comedian with markedly simian features. Three years earlier Uyama had discovered by chance that his animal patients became relaxed when placed in the arms of his pet macaque, a kind of monkey, named Chita.
“Chita also was a good assistant to me,” Uyama recalls, “but as he grew old he became increasingly wild.” Chosuke has settled into the job much more successfully. He cradles dogs and cats in his arms while they receive injections, takes food to animals in the kennels and even carries Uyama’s medical bag on house calls.
Chosuke seems hostile only to the occasional cat, which may hiss at him and then pounce. The chimp turns the other cheek. “There have been almost no fights,” Uyama explains, “because Chosuke is a confirmed pacifist. Dogs,” Uyama adds, “love him and vice versa.” The chimp also gets along well with birds.
Despite some researchers’ success in the U.S. in communicating with chimps, Uyama has never tried to teach Chosuke any sign language. “He understands me so perfectly,” Uyama, 41, explains, “that there has never been any need for it. He’s almost a mind reader.”
If he matures with normal chimp characteristics, Chosuke may eventually become too testy to continue comforting Uyama’s patients, though for now he is a model worker. His retirement has been taken care of, in any case. He will not be sent back to the African jungle. “Once he gets old,” Uyama promises, “Chosuke will remain with me as a companion at home.” Adds the grateful vet, “Have I ever had a human assistant as reliable as Chosuke? Never.”