Kanzi the Great Ape Learns the Art of Campfire Maintenance

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His name may not be Ceaser, but one great ape is making the world sit up and take notice. Watch as he collects firewood and makes a campfire of his own to roast some tasty marshmallows.

The video, originally aired on BBC as part of their show Monkey Planet, features Kanzi, a 33 year old banobo chimpanzee, commonly known as a pygmy chimpanzee, in one of his favorite past times. According to his human associates, Kanzis camping skills are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

While he may not be plotting to overthrow humanity, Kanzi, who is one of 8 bonobos at the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa, is demonstrating a level of intelligence not previously seen in his species. Most impressive among these skills are Kanzi’s linguistic abilities. While many apes have been taught to communicate using either lexigrams or ASL (American Sign Language), Kensi appears to have learned to communicate with humans naturalistically, as a human child might.

Kanzi picked up lexigrams, a series of specialized symbols used to communicate non-verbally, while attending class with his mother. While he seemed uninterested in the lessons, he surprised researchers by suddenly using the lexigrams correctly when left alone with them. From his initial ten words, he now communicates with over 200 words, far surpassing his mother’s skill.

Kanzi seems to have learned plenty from television,. According to Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, a primatologist who has worked with bonobos much of her life, he was inspired to learn to build a fire after binge watching Quest for Fire, and surprised researchers yet again when he started using ASL after watching videos of the famed gorilla Koko. 

Kanzi not only communicates on an advanced level for an ape, but appears to be attempting to communicate verbally in spite of the fact that apes have long been believed incapable of verbal communication. With each lexigram communication Kanzi includes a vocalization which, while distorted and high pitched, are articulate vocalizations of the symbols he is using to communicate.

While Kanzi’s son Teco, born in 2010, does not have the same communication skills, this is not stopping Kanzi from passing on some of what he has learned from living with humans. In this video, Kenzi plays with his son.

According to researchers at the center, Kanzi is now teaching Teco how to build fires of his own.

Though there is no reason to fear the Bonobo uprising of 2014, the amazing intelligence exhibited by this special chimp may aid the cause of Great Ape Personhood, which would protect creatures like Kanzi and his family, from being used in science experiments or as, well, trained apes for human entertainment. Only time will tell if these great apes will evolve to rule the world, but certainly treating them as intelligent beings couldn’t hurt, as it seems that apes may not be so different from you and me.


Image: BBC

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