The Little Rock Zoo

.The Little Rock Zoo needs to step up and care for the animals better! Please read the several artciles here with deaths, sickness and a bald chimp!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Susan Savage-Rumbaugh Discusses Bonobo Bispecies Environment

In this TED Talk Susan Savage-Rumbaugh discusses bonobos housed in a bispecies environment that have been taught to communicate using pictographs. In the talk she suggests that biology isn't what made humans unique from nonhuman apes, but rather argues that it was cultural developments and social learning. Quite obviously there are some biological differences (around 1% of our genes differ, some of them coding for proteins important for brain formation). However, I challenge you to watch Kanzi build a fire and perform activities that require precise hand-eye coordination (including the making of stone tools) and conclude that this is a difference of kind rather than merely a difference of degree. While there may be a subtle form of coaching in some of the activities performed by the bonobos in Savage-Rumbaugh's care (and some of the chalk drawings used for communication could be over interpreted), I see no reason to assume that the learning taking place couldn't also occur organically in the wild. However, to my knowledge no bonobo has ever shown a penchant for playing Pac Man in the forests of Lomako or Lac Tumba.
To quote Monica Uddin and colleagues from their 2003 paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (focusing on chimpanzees, but which applies equally for bonobos):

Traditionally, humans are presumed to have superior cognitive abilities and, thereby, to be very different from other animals. This presumed superiority lies in the supposed uniqueness of such human abilities as producing cultural artifacts and engaging in language and symbolic thought. Recent work, however, shows that chimpanzees, who are the sister group of humans, engage in culture, use tools, and display rudimentary forms of language. Moreover, with regard to DNA changes that alter proteins and are favored by natural selection, chimpanzees diverge about as much from the most recent common human-chimpanzee ancestor as do humans.

Source and video

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