Organ grinder monkeys
Street entertainers have been entertaining children and adults alike for years. In the “olden days,” street musicians known as Hurdy Gurdy men or Organ Grinders traveled around with hand powered organs called hurdy-gurdies. Some of these traveling musicians also carried along monkeys, usually capuchins, who would perform tricks, such as collecting tips, dancing, and bowing for their audience. Capuchins were natural choices for the task since they are highly intelligent primates but do not reach large sizes like chimpanzees. Unfortunately, these animals were not always treated kindly by their trainers, and government regulations are now in place to try to prevent animal cruelty against primates still being used for entertainment purposes. However, the harsh reality is that primates currently engaged in the entertainment industry do not have a choice in their line of work and often suffer due to harsh treatment from their caretakers and/or because of their social isolation from other primates. We at iloveprimates.com hope that someday no primate will be used in this way.
(Image from Library of Congress)
The Great Ape Trust of Iowa says this about Kanzi: “If there were a superstar within the bonobo community, Kanzi, which means “treasure” in Swahili, would certainly be it. Born in 1980, Kanzi came to Georgia State University’s Language Research Center at the age of six months. He is regarded as the first ape to demonstrate real comprehension of spoken speech.”
Kanzi, a male bonobo, was born on October 28, 1980. From a young age, he was intensively looked after by Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, who noticed his interest in language studies she had been conducting with his mother. Originally, she worked with Kanzi in an attempt to help him communicate his needs to the caretakers. His progress in the training was astounding, however, and unexpected. What has emerged was years of research that ultimately demonstrated that nonhuman primates can learn primitive human language. Because apes such as bonobos do not have the proper laryngeal structure to produce words like we do, Kanzi communicates using specialized keyboards containing lexigrams, or symbols that represent words. Kanzi can understand over 500 human vocabulary words and can string together simple sentences from some 200 symbols, which suggests that he has the human language abilities of a 2 ½ year old child. However, he also has much more advanced skills, such as the ability to fashion tools, solve complex puzzles, vocalize in his own language, and yes, even conquer Arcade games. After 25 years at the Language Research Center at Georgia State University, Kanzi has relocated and currently lives in Iowa in a colony of bonobos being studied by Dr. Rumbaugh at the Great Ape Trust.
Koko is a female western lowland gorilla born in 1971at the San Francisco Zoo. As quoted on the Gorilla Foundation’s website, “Today, more than 25 years later, Koko – the world’s most renowned gorilla – is drawing on a vocabulary of more than 1,000 words.” Under the tutelage of Dr. Penny Patterson, Koko can understand over 2,000 spoken words and has even taken an I.Q. test! (She scored between 75 and 90 on the human scale, very close to “normal” human intelligence.) Her use of sign language is no less than fascinating, as she can even invent words for objects she has never seen before, for instance signing “water” and “bird” to describe a swan the first time she saw one swimming on a lake. One of the most interesting documentaries highlighting animal research was produced in 1978 by Barbet Schroeder with Koko as the star. The French film, Koko: le gorille qui parle, remains a thought provoking portrayal of the day to day training of Koko and the effects that the artificial environment in which she is kept has on her demeanor. Koko currently serves as an animal ambassador, highlighting the gentle qualities of gorillas and sparking people’s interest in gorilla conservation.
For all those born prior to 1990…you might remember the moonwalking chimpanzee named Bubbles that appeared on television, movies, and music videos with Michael Jackson for a few years. Although born in a biomedical laboratory, Bubbles was sold as an infant to a Hollywood trainer. Michael Jackson purchased him soon after, upon which time Bubbles became famous, touring Japan on a promotional tour with MJ. Although many people thought he was adorable, traveling on tour is not a high quality life for any primate other than a human. Like all chimpanzees, he grew too strong to be around people, and so he went to live at the trainer’s animal compound in California where he met an older chimpanzee named Sam. Bubbles and Sam lived in California until March 2005, when they were both sent to the Center for Great Apes to live in a group of chimpanzees, all of whom were also retired from the entertainment world. (It is fortunate a few rescue centers such as this exist, since most chimpanzees are sent to laboratories after they are no longer of use for our entertainment.) Unlike the story for so many former celebrity chimpanzees, this story has a relatively happy ending. Bubbles is now a strapping 170 pound male with a sensitive side and enjoys painting, listening to music, and climbing to the top of his favorite lookout point where he can see long distances and make loud chimp calls.
(Image from Center for Great Apes)