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Angry chimp reveals a "uniquely-human" ability

Posted Jun 02 2009 4:41pm
Santino the chimp, photo courtesy of www.telegraph.co.uk

Santino the angry chimp is famous. You can google his name and find dozens of stories about him, in science journals and popular media.

It's not his anger that's making him famous, but how he plans ahead for his fits of rage.

Santino, a 30-year-old resident of the Furuvik Zoo in Sweden, has been observed collecting and stockpiling stones in his enclosure to use as future weapons. Later, when zoo visitors get on his nerves in a big way, he grabs stones from his cache to hurl at the annoying voyeurs!

He has also been observed tapping the concrete rocks in his enclosure to identify the weak parts, then dislodging a piece. If the chunk is too big to throw, he breaks it into smaller pieces.

The newsworthy part of this story is not that Santino makes tools; we have abundant documentation of primates and birds making tools, mostly as food-gathering implements.

The remarkable feature here is that Santino is planning for his future outbursts of temper.

Planning is a cognitive ability generally attributed only to humans. Or at least, we have little verifiable evidence of planning in non-human animals.

You might say that a squirrel's stashing nuts for winter is evidence of planning, but it's not necessarily. It's more likely that squirrels instinctively stash nuts as day length begins to shorten, since young squirrels who have never experienced a winter still do it.

True planning shows that an animal is considering what its future feelings will be at a later time.

As it turns out, Santino, as the dominant chimp at the zoo, has been storing and heaving stones over the moat at visitors for at least 11 years. Zookeepers have found and removed hundreds of Santino's caches of stones over the years. Fortunately for visitors, chimps throw underhanded and have terrible aim, so no one has been seriously injured by these "hailstorms" of aggression. And the stones are directed only at zoo visitors, never at the other chimps.

Scientist Mathias Osvath of Lund University says "These observations convincingly show that our fellow apes do consider the future in a very complex way. It implies that they have a highly developed consciousness, including lifelike mental simulations of potential events.....he first realizes that he can make these and then plans on how to use them. This is more complex than what has been showed before."

For me, Sally, it means that once again we have evidence that humans are not so unique after all. And so, I believe we should stop hogging the world's land and resources for ourselves, and stop fouling the remaining green spaces and waterways with our effluvia. We do not deserve dominion over the scraps of wild habitat and resources that remain.

Santino the chimp with stone in hand, photo courtesy of www.cbc.ca

Keywords:: chimps chimpanzees animal intelligence planning in animals Santino the chimp
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