Lyn Miles, a longtime anthropology professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, has been selected to the inaugural group of 10 inductees into the international Interspecies Communication Hall of Fame.
At UTC, Miles worked for nine years with Chantek the orangutan, eventually teaching him more than 150 words—the vocabulary of a 2- or 3-year-old child—in American Sign Language for the Deaf, the first time someone had tried—and succeeded—to teach an orangutan to sign.
Miles said UTC and its partners were key participants in the research that led to her induction into the hall of fame.
“I want you all to know that I could not have achieved this recognition without the support over decades of the UTC administration and the University of Chattanooga Foundation, which led to major National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health grants, a Smithsonian exhibit and now over 27 documentaries on this research conducted at UTC.”
UTC Chancellor Steve Angle applauded Miles’ work and her selection for the Interspecies Communication Hall of Fame.
“Congratulations! What an honor. We are very proud of you and all you have done for UTC and your profession,” he said.
Miles also expressed her gratitude to UTC Executive Vice Chancellor Richard Brown who, as former chief of police at the university, had several dealings with Chantek, who was something of an escape artist.
“Please note that I want to especially acknowledge and thank UTC Executive Vice Chancellor Richard Brown who started this journey with me and should really be co-recipient of this recognition,” Miles said. “At the very least, he and I have some great stories!”
Along with Chantek, Miles’ research examines the orangutan species as a whole, including their social interactions and cultural components. She has been an advocate that a great ape should not be seen only as a captive in a zoo or an animal for experimentation but as a legal person under the law.
The Interspecies organization was created by Google, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Bits and Atoms and the Jeremy Coller Foundation. Its goal “is to encourage, explore and facilitate interfaces for interspecies communication and approaches for deciphering the communication of non-human animals. With the aim to positively impact species,” according to a press release.
Other inductees into the inaugural hall of fame class include Jill Tartar, founder of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), TED Talks founder Richard Saul Wurman, philanthropist Jeremy Coller and chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall.
“I will be in extraordinary company!” Miles said. “UTC should be very proud of its role here, which will be mentioned at the event.”