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Primitive Thinking

Liz Stabenow
Carrboro NC USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 20 No. 4, July-August 2003, p. 136

As a mother of a breastfed toddler, I am always surprised when people are shocked by the comparison of a nursing mother to a cow, or any other mammal. I distinctly recall gently saying "moo" to myself as I breastfed my little girl. We are mammals, after all. Perhaps I come from a different perspective than most-I am a primate care technician. I feed, clean up after, and care for lemurs and other primates at a research center. One of the most rewarding parts of my job is watching the mothers and their offspring as they grow up. I have helped an Aye-Aye (a strange-looking nocturnal lemur) infant latch on to her reluctant mother to make sure they got off to a good start in their breastfeeding relationship. My colleagues and I understand the importance of species specific milk to the lemurs' health and development. The baby lemurs are cared for completely by their mothers and given supplements only in the rare case of very small, sick, or weak animals. I have seen mother sifakas, another type of lemur, wean their infants at various ages and in various manners, sometimes envying how easily the young lemurs end their period of nursing and move on to leaves, veggies, and monkey chow.

Right now I'm enjoying the twin ringtail lemurs I care for. They are often both hanging on to their mother's back, each one dangling down and grabbing a nipple in his or her mouth when their mother stops for a bite of food. Her strength, patience, and endurance can be inspiring. Her little "toddlers" are starting to sample their first solid foods-in this case, monkey chow-but quickly return to their mother at the first sound she makes. If only my two-year-old listened as well. Working with prosimian ("pre-monkey") primates, it is clear to me how much we share with even our more distant primate relatives. I do not cringe when I hear a breastfeeding mother compared to any other mammal. I think that perhaps we have more in common than our breasts.

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