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Chimp Shows off Ingenuity and Brutishness of his Species (and Perhaps Ours)

It's completely off topic, but I can't resist posting a story from the March 27, 2009 issue of The Week. The chimp who plans for...

Dr. Eric Barchas  |  Mar 27th 2009


It’s completely off topic, but I can’t resist posting a story from the March 27, 2009 issue of The Week.

The chimp who plans for the future

Human beings can imagine and plan for future events– a capability that scientists have long believed makes us unique among living creatures. But an angry chimpanzee in a Swedish zoo has shown that his species is capable of meticulous preparations for the future: He stockpiles rocks, shapes them into aerodynamic discs, and then waits hours for zoo visitors to come into range so he can pelt them. Every morning before visitors start to trickle in, [the chimp, named] Santino roams his outdoor enclosure, searching for small stones. He’s learned to make his own stones, too, by knocking pieces off the concrete walls. At times, Santino shapes his weapons into discs, so they sail through the air more accurately. The chimp stacks the stones in small piles, so that when he becomes irritated by visitors invading his territory, he has an ammunition store on hand and can begin hurling his missiles. No one has been hurt.

I have a few thoughts on the story.

  • Although humans are capable of imagining and planning for future events, a huge number of us don’t.
  • The story makes me question the ethics of keeping chimps in enclosures such as Santino’s. Generally, an animal must be quite stressed before it will act aggressively as described in the blurb (although maybe Santino throws the rocks simply to enjoy the reaction the missiles elicit from zoo visitiors).
  • Chimps may be smart, but Santino clearly isn’t the brightest ape on earth. If he were, he wouldn’t waste his time stockpiling rocks. He’d stockpile his own feces.
  • Photo credit: Richard. Photo license: CC.