Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sharing Culture and Language with Bonobos

Listening to Susan Savage-Rumbaugh is inspiring.  She knows bonobos. She understands them and attempts to make the rest of us see what some refuse to see.

The "forgotten ape" as Frans DeWaal like to call the bonobo, is not a pervert or  a beast.  It is a gentle, beautiful, intelligent creature, able to communicate and learn tasks by watching others.    An expert at resolving conflicts in a peaceful manner.

Through her studies , Savage-Rumbaugh is demonstrating that the capabilities of a species are not solely determined by biology but mainly by exposure to other cultures.

In this very inspiring video you will see bonobos writing, starting a fire, playing pac-man, grooming their baby.

Bonobos are an endangered species living in the Congo.  The estimated population of bonobos in situ is around 5,000.  It was estimated to about 10,000 in 1990.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Can Primates Bear Grudges?

Some of you may have heard about elephant attacks against humans.  These wonderful creatures have an extremely good memory and apparently do bear grudges and have been witnessed around the world attacking humans in retaliation for taking over territory that once belonged to them.

In December of 2000, a story originally published by Saoudi newspaper Al-Riyadh and picked up by other newspapers, including French Libération , recounted the incredible attack of a car on a road linking Mecca to Taëf.  Apparently, a car drove over a hamadryas baboon and left him dead on the road.  The members of his troop waited three long days until the car came back and launched an attack against it.  One of the baboons (a leader?) screamed when the car appeared thereby starting the bout of stone throwing at the vehicle.  The driver got out safe but the windshield was shattered.

This attack is very interesting - it tends to indicate that baboons are aware of death and that they can bear a grudge and wedge war against a perceived enemy.

In "A Social History of Dying", Allan Kellehear writes:
"The famous South African ethologist Eugene Marais (1973), author of The Soul of the Ape, records thh story of a mother chacma baboon whose offspring is accidentally injured some weeks after its birth.  When the infant is taken away, the mother shows endless signs of distress, including ceaseless calling into the night. The infant dies in treatment and is returned to the mother. The mother greets the infant with sounds of endearment, touching it with her hands and lips.  But after recognizing that the infant is dead she loses interest in the body, even when the deceased is removed from the cage.  This chacma baboon recognized death."

In "The Descent of Man: and selection in relation to sex" by Charles Darwin, Adrian Desmond and James Moore, one can read the following passage: "Sir Andrew Smith , a zoologist whose scrupulous accuracy was known to many persons, told me the following story of which he was himself an eye-witness; at the Cape of Good Hope an officer had often plagued a certain baboon, and the animal, seeing him approaching one Sunday for parade, poured water into a hole and hastily made some thick mud, which he skilfully dashed over the officer as he passed by, to the amusement of many bystanders.  For long afterwards the baboon rejoiced and triumphed whenever the saw his victim."

So, much like humans, it is possible that monkeys, as well as apes, have some awareness of the end of life and can retaliate.  The good thing is that they can also show compassion and love.

In "The Descent of Man: and selection in relation to sex" by Charles Darwin, Adrian Desmond and James Moore, one can read the following: "...Rengger observed an American monkey (a Cebus) carefully driving away the flies which plagued her infant; and Duvaucel saw a Hylobates washing faces of other young ones in the stream.  So intense is the grief of female monkeys for the loss of their young, that it invariably caused the death of certain kinds kept under confinement by Brehm in N. Africa.  Orphan monkeys were always adopted and carefully guarded by other monkeys, both males and females.  One female baboon had so capacious a heart that she not only adopted young monkeys of other species, but stole young dogs and cats, which she continually carried about."

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Missing Link - New Findings

The discovery of "Ardi" in 1994 in Ethiopia may well have been the missing link scientists had been searching for.  This week scientists revealed the result of this 15 year long study.

The partial skeleton of a female Ardipithecus ramidus, nicknamed "Ardi", is estimated to be about 4.4 million years old.

This hominid seems to have been the ancestor to both humans and apes.  However, evidence shows that she did not knuckle-walk but walked standing upright.  This means that our ancestors walked straight over one million years ealier than previously thought.  

This changes the theory that prevailed until now - i.e. humans must have been walking on all fours.  Since apes also descend from Ardi but they knuckle-walk, this also means that knuckle-walking is an adaptation and that therefore apes evolved as much as humans did.

For more information read:
Discovery in Ethiopia casts light on human origins - Reuters .

Discovery of "Ardi" sheds light on human origins - The Vancouver Sun

Discovery Channel videos

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Spinning Bonobos and Gorillas Running Through London

This week I want to share two very cool videos.

The first one shows Bonobos having a lot of fun in their enclosure.  I wouldn't be surprised if trapeze artists take inspiration from these beautiful apes.  (Drum roll) And now watch the amazing
"Spinning... Bonobos ".

The second is about the 7th gorilla run that took place in London on 9/28 to raise funds to save the endangered gorilla population.

Enjoy and please leave a note on the blog if you know of other events like the Gorilla Run.
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