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Zanna Clay
May 20, 2024
In Share Your Memory
A very special meeting of Frans and another of the world's great ambassadors of bonobos- Claudine André, founder of Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary, DR Congo. In 2018, Frans joined me for a research visit to the world's only bonobo sanctuary- a place we have been doing research since 2011. It was an amazing trip and a huge honour to see Frans in situe with the bonobos. A highlight was seeing Frans together with Claudine- the two bonobo enthusiasts are like kindred spirits, with a shared passion for bonobos and wish to advocate for them here a pic of them both in Lola ya Bonobo
Meeting of bonobo minds - Frans visits Claudine Andre, founder of Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary, DR Congo content media
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Zanna Clay
May 20, 2024
In Share Your Memory
An intellectual giant, incredible mentor, friend, and colleague – we have lost one of life’s true greats. It is difficult to overstate the impact that Frans had on the world of primatology and on all that knew and worked with him. Frans has been an incomparable presence in so many of our lives- including my own- he will be hugely missed.   An exceptional observer of animals, Frans had a deep and brave curiosity for the natural world, a curiosity that enabled him to see things beyond the constraints of the status quo. Decades of behaviourism had left other scientists reticent to ascribe human-like traits to other animals, but Frans was different- he trusted his eye and, bolstered by a solid training in Dutch ethology, was unphased in highlighting the continuities he saw between humans and other primates. This was a trait I always so admired in Frans- he was never afraid to say what he thought, and to take his own path. Through his careful observations and systematic methods, Frans and his collaborators showed us that primates have emotions, care about one another, act prosocially, cooperate, have sophisticated forms of communication, learn socially, and perhaps even behave morally. In his books, Frans brought animal behaviour to life on the page, masterfully fusing scientific evidence with insightful anecdotes and stories. I remember, as a teenager, the wave of excitement that struck me when first reading one of Frans’ books. I had chosen his book, the Ape and the Sushi Master, as my prize for a School Award for Achievements in Science. I remain ever grateful for the ‘full-circle moment’ to have had the chance to work with him for well over a decade.   Frans was never scared of controversy. When he argued that that animals had emotions, have empathy or even had sex for fun, he was often accused of anthropomorphism, but what was amazing about Frans was that he just bravely turned this on its head, and accused others of anthropodenial, which referred to refusal to see the human-like traits in other animals, especially in our closest living great ape relatives. Much of what met resistance then has now come to form the cornerstone of primatology today. Frans played a huge role in opening many new avenues of study of the primate mind- something which has enormously enhanced the field. My own work investigating the evolution of empathy and its expression in great apes would not have been possible without him. He inspired and encouraged us all to think differently about animals and always reminded us of the inner primate within.   Above all, Frans was an amazing mentor, colleague and friend. He invested in those that worked with him, encouraged each of us to pursue our own interests and ideas, and above all kept things fun. If a work conversation got too heavy, he often would crack a joke and shift the topic- I became mindful of his subtle and playful cues! He was a great enabler, who supported us and quietly opened doors of opportunity. He was amazing at staying in touch, and always made himself available to offer advice at key points of my own professional transition. I always knew I could count on him-   It was never just about the science for Frans, he made everyone feel included and showed great affection and generosity of spirit. In Atlanta, Frans and his wife Catherine would regularly host fabulous parties and lab gatherings at their beautiful Stone Mountain home- we would eat delicious food, beautifully prepared by Catherine, relax and have fun. Both Frans and Catherine always took a genuine interest in our lives and showed great generosity. I am forever grateful for the warmth they showed-   Another quality I always admired in Frans was his capacity to get a lot done without ever seeming stressed. Conversations with Frans would often be permeated by a constantly pinging inbox chime, yet he would reply to my own emails within minutes. Amongst all his supervisory duties, he also remained phenomenally productive as an author and public science communicator. I always remember Catherine remarking that Frans natural state was to be writing. He would write every day but always without any fanfare. Frans had an air of an easy and carefree approach while at the same time being deeply engaged and observant- it is a very special quality.   I was so very pleased to join Frans on his long-awaited visit to Lola ya Bonobo Sanctary in the DR Congo in 2018. Since 2011, Frans and I had been conducting research on empathy in the bonobos there, and he was a long admirer of its founder, Claudine André. The two were kindred spirits in many ways, each having done so much to advocate and raise the profile of bonobos. It was a privilege to spend that time together with them and the bonobos.   During the period Frans was sick, I was pregnant with my first child. In respect, love and honour of Frans, and knowing he didn't have long left, my partner and I decided to give our son the middle name Frans, who was born 2 months before Frans died. Frans and his wife Catherine were very touched. I told Frans how much I was looking forward to telling my son all about the great primatologist he is named after and the wonderful world of primates. Frans told me that he himself was named after Francis of Assisi, the Saint of Animals. I know his spirit and love for the animal kingdom will live on, now in my own son.   Frans is gone too soon but leaves behind him an enormous and beautiful legacy. I remain ever grateful for his presence in my life. He will be greatly missed and never forgotten.
Contribution to a group obituary, due to appear in American Journal of Primatology content media
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