What does a chimp have to do to get some respect?
Santino seems to be an awesome specimen. Then again I’ve never been to a zoo, watched a chimp and not said ‘that guy is #$%@ awesome! he’s just sitting there and it’s hilarious”. It’s very easy to anthropomorphize animals in general but it’s especially effortless with apes and monkeys. I don’t have any real problems with casual anthropomorphizing as long as it’s not done at the corporation or research levels, but because it comes so naturally, it is easy to see why there is need for skepticism while analyzing the underpinnings of certain behaviors such as Santinos planning and elaborate rock hiding or other species’ ‘clever animal’ behaviors.
I wouldn’t be surprised if more studies agreed with ones like this, and it becomes generally accepted that chimpanzees can conceive of non-present future behaviors of others and take actions to lead to such potential futures. Sympathy, empathy, tool use, culture, war etc have all been stripped from the ‘what makes humans unique’ column in the past, and although I’m always weighing discoveries against my tendency to anthropomorphize (essentially wish thinking because it’s cute or fun or familiar), I think it’s generally useful in terms of facing our true place in the animal kingdom to be stripped of as many ‘uniquely human’ attributes as possible.
A story about deceitful primates is incomplete without talking about Fu Manchu, the orangutan master of escape. In 1968 at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo, one of their orangutans had a habit of getting out of his enclosure. Each time, the puzzled zookeepers would find him chilling in the trees of the elephant enclosure. He would be summarily returned to his enclosure and promptly escape again that night.
At first, zookeeper error was blamed, but even as doors were double and tripled checked Fu Manchu made his escapes. It was only out of sheer luck that one keeper noticed that the rogue ape had something in his mouth. Fu Manchu kept a piece of wire hidden between his gums and lip that he would use to jimmy the lock each night. Wire confiscated, Fu Manchu’s Houdini-styled reign ended.
Deception isn’t unique to apes, either. Anybody who has told an obedient dog “No” when they eyed a hamburger, only to have the dog take it as soon as your back was turned, knows that being sneaky is a common, and beneficial trait. For the sneak, anyway.
This post was brought to you by Lawrencium (Lr).