Readers Respond to the July/August 2020 issue

Your feedback on our coverage of bonobos and virus hunters

Endangered Bonobos
You can imagine my excitement when I received the Smithsonian with the stunning close-up of the bonobo Teco filling the cover (“The Divide,” JuIy/August 2020). However, there is only lip service paid to the plight of this magnificent species in the wild, and alongside the beautiful images of bonobos by the photographer Kevin Miyazaki, the story included a number of other, older photographs of humans in direct contact with the apes themselves. We know from published research that images of endangered primates with humans, or human artifacts, give people the impression that non-human primates are not endangered, or even worse—that they make good pets. Including these images without a discussion of these threats is frankly irresponsible. I think Smithsonian missed an opportunity to focus on the conservation status of the species most closely related to our own and identify ways for humans to do something positive for our evolutionary next of kin. The current pandemic provides a fitting context for the human species to begin a new era of scientific discovery that liberates us from the idea that we have dominion over our planet and all its inhabitants.

—Jared Taglialatela, president and director of the Ape Initiative, Des Moines

The Next Pandemic
By their watchfulness “The Virus Hunters” are performing a valuable service. But this “small, influential cadre of researchers who believe that such epidemics can be prevented” ultimately will fail. Just as with wildfires and floods, preventing small conflagrations may buy some time, but an outbreak that escapes control eventually will occur. Long-term solutions can only be found at the interface between the natural and the developing world, in controlling such activities as the consumption of wild animals, the occupation of forests, construction on flood plains, or release of sequestered carbon into the atmosphere.

—Larry Blain | Poulsbo, Washington

The Real Chef
In “Post-Colonial Custard,” you should have mentioned the name of the chef who came back from France with Thomas Jefferson and actually made the ice cream. The individual who likely did the work was the future president’s enslaved chef, James Hemings (brother of Sally and half brother of Jefferson’s deceased wife, Martha). Please do better, be more inclusive and give credit where credit is due.

—Karen Baird | Kennett Square, Pennsylvania

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