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Jewish World Review
April 30, 2009
/ 6 Iyar
Planning of the Apes
If I had to summarize, in one sentence, the result of most scientists' studies of animal behavior, that sentence would be, "They're smarter than we give them credit for" (the animals, not the researchers).
The problem, as I see it, is that for centuries people have just assumed that animals are pretty stupid, primarily because we've witnessed our own dogs and cats who, when not engaged in lengthy licking and scratching rituals, tend to fill their time with non-Einstein-esque behaviors like ferociously attacking invisible dust bunnies or gleefully rolling around in dead squirrel remains. And then it's right back to the licking and scratching.
With such low expectations on animal intelligence, it's no wonder we're always reading about new government-funded studies excitedly reporting that, for example, goldfish can recognize themselves in a mirror, pigeons can identify more complex patterns than previously believed or that rats, when trained over a period of months, can be taught to fill out basic government research grant forms.
"This has been a real time-saver for us, as you can probably imagine," the lead researcher on the project told reporters. "And to think some people don't see any practical application for scientific research!"
The latest example of this "Animals: Not as dumb as we thought" strain of research comes from Sweden, where animal behaviorists have discovered a chimpanzee named Santino who exhibits what the scientists claim is "human-like planning behavior." As evidence, researchers report that Santino will regularly spend hours meticulously collecting stones and broken off bits of concrete which he then fashions into what the researchers describe as "a primitive sort of BlackBerry." Ha! Just kidding. He hoards the rocks to throw at people visiting the zoo.
"Such planning implies advanced consciousness and cognition traditionally not associated with animals," says primate researcher Mathias Osvath.
Or, for that matter, I might add, many of the people you see scrambling to get to the post office before midnight every year on April 15.
And while we can all readily agree that stones are easily the second-worst thing that primates tend to throw at people, whether this kind of advance planning is so rare in the animal kingdom remains an open question. Why, in my household alone, I have witnessed any number of instances where my cat will sit by the door for hours until he's let in, at which point he promptly throws up on the carpet. That's not just planning, it's actual scheming.
Besides, the recognition that primates are plotting against us should come as no surprise to anyone who's seen Planet of the Apes. In this chilling documentary about a post-apocalyptic world ruled by super-intelligent chimpanzees, humans are hunted and enslaved, and can't even be saved from their primate oppressors by a force as powerful as Charlton Heston's overacting.
Clearly, Santino's rock-throwing is merely a small part of the primates' larger plan to make the Planet of the Apes scenario a reality. And frankly, can you blame them for turning against us? Any time we're not conducting experiments on them or locking them up to be gawked at in our zoos, we're dressing them in humiliating diaper and baby bonnet outfits or shooting hilarious YouTube videos of them riding on Segways (Seriously, if you haven't seen this, check it out - keyword search "chimpanzee segway." You won't regret it). In truth, Santino is probably just gathering all those rock piles to defend himself in case any Hollywood types show up looking to cast the lead role in Most Valuable Primate: Going Ape in Europe.
Still, to be on the safe side, we humans have to assume that our simian cousins have us in their rock-throwing crosshairs, and we need to think about how we can discourage them from putting their dastardly plans for human subjugation into action. The first step should be to show them that we're not all sadistic animal experimenters or weird monkey diaper fetishists, and highlight all we've done to benefit primate species.
For example, in the early days of the space program, NASA bestowed on monkeys the rare honor of experiencing the exhilaration of space travel why, they even got to go into space before we sent any humans up. These early monkey-nauts could provide great testimonials to other primates about the privilege of helping to pioneer space travel. What a terrible shame that they were all either asphyxiated while in orbit or killed on impact after reentry.
OK, so maybe that plan won't work. Instead, we'll have to find a way to distract the primates from their plans for world domination. And as we know, primates are social animals, so all we need is a way to trick them into expending all their energy on a completely useless, time-wasting activity. I think I may have the answer: www.monkeyfacebook.com.
JWR contributor Malcolm Fleschner is a humor columnist for The DC Examiner. Let him know what you think by clicking here.
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© 2006, Malcolm Fleschner