Ramona Morris wants a wolf – to talk to!

Desmond Morris talks to the animals

TVTimes masthead
From the TVTimes for week commencing 19 January 1958

OXFORD graduate Ramona Morris would like a young wolf to bring up at home. For she is making a study of wolf signals in an attempt to communicate with these animals in the only language they understand.

Ramona’s interest springs from co-operation with her husband. Desmond Morris, who presents Granada’s Zoo Time.

Viewers may recall having been shown in a recent programme the proper way to “talk” to a chimpanzee. Recordings of various chimp noises were played and the relationship of these different sounds to chimp behaviour explained. Since then, Morris has been making further research.

“People who make a point of talking to animals almost always use the ‘Hullo. Aren’t you pretty!’ sort of approach,” he complains. “But, of course, it doesn’t mean a thing to the creature that’s being addressed; although sometimes an animal does pick up something from a tone of voice. If one must talk to an animal the sensible thing is to try to imitate the language of its species.”

A woman with a python
Ramona Morris makes a pal of a python

Tigers and eagles are the latest creatures with which Morris has established some degree of direct communication. Every day as he walks from his nearby flat to The Den at London’s Regent’s Park Zoo he pauses for a word with the tigers in their own tongue or exchanges greetings with the eagles.

“The tiger’s particular greeting noise is a sort of loud, stuttering purr,” says Morris, as he gives an impressive imitation of this jungle sound.

A man with a chimp
Desmond Morris prefers the company of a cheeky chimpanzee

“Of course, if people hear you doing this outside the cages they stare as if you’re crazy. They stare even more if, for some reason, the tiger isn’t interested at that moment and doesn’t reply.

“The African sea eagle’s idea of a friendly word is a cry like a high-pitched scream attempted by someone suffering from laryngitis, while the Bateleur eagle’s ‘Good morning’ is more of a growling scream. These fellows and 1 have quite a big session as I pass their cages.”

Morris’s eagle mimicry is even more terrific than his tiger talk. But it was through practising chimp chatter that he stirred up a spot of trouble in a pet shop.

“I was in the shop with a friend,” he told me, “and started to have a word with a lonely looking female chimp. The result was pandemonium. Instantly, the animal got into such a state of frantic excitement that she began flinging herself about and shaking the bars of her cage with tremendous violence.

“That set off all the monkeys in the shop in a hullabaloo. Puppies began barking and birds screeching, and in seconds the place was in such an uproar that my friend pulled me away.”

As to those wolf signals, Morris emphasises that they are visual, not aural. Not a whistle in the language!

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