Friday, August 31, 2007

"Does the sky need a name? Does the river?"

An ape in central Iowa is showing researchers just how smart primates can be.

Panbanisha, a bonobo at the Great Ape Trust of Iowa, has given names to two trumpeter swans nesting on the center's 230-acre campus in Des Moines — an achievement researchers say shows how important collaboration is to learning.

"As we bring something into the bonobos' environment that's very different, we need to collaborate with them rather than impose changes on them," said Dr. Karyl Swartz, a scientist involved in the study of memory, problem solving and self-recognition in apes. "It has to do with our philosophy that we collaborate in every way possible — from research to everyday activities."


Motivating the bonobo to name the swans was complex, said researcher Liz Rubert-Pugh. Over the last few months, researchers made references to the swans while communicating with the bonobo — showing the ape they were interested in giving them names. They displayed pictures of the swans, played videos of them and took Panbanisha on a walk to find them.

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