“Our female colleagues are away, solving the demographic problem in Abkhazia”. This is one of the sentences I heard very often at the Institute. I was told many of the young women from the staff were on maternal leave. Indeed, the country badly needs to be repopulated. Half of the people vanished or fled during the separatist war. And the long depression years that followed didn’t encourage families to have kids. When I went to the University, I was told there were very few students because this was the generation born at the end of the 1990’s, after the war.
It sounds bad, but one cannot stop thinking of the other demographic: researchers are pretty obsessed with raising the monkey birth-rate. (While filming, I was obsessed too with this theme: check this post). The monkey population is now at around 600, less than a quarter of what they had before the war. The Institute has a policy of putting together new monkey couples. But the abandonment rate is quite high. And when a monkey-mother rejects her baby and refuses to feed him or her, the baby is in danger of being killed by the father. These are the monkey-babies that Tania raises at home. Chichiko (whom I wrote about here) was one of them. His mother was part of the experiments. A traumatized monkey-mother was replaced by a human mother.
And there’s another striking side of the picture: the majority of the medical staff and caretakers at the Institute are women. Men were either killed during the war or are busy with more practical, better-paid jobs. The women at the Primate Institute are dealing with this task in a paradoxical way. They are there to force the monkeys during the experiments – but they can’t stop having a warm, personalized, motherly relationship with them.