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To say that Kanzi, a Bonobo ape that resides at The Great Ape Sanctuary outside Des Moines, Iowa, is smarter than a human toddler, may be understating it. That's because while human babies have to be taught everything, Kanzi has learnt his skills largely, by observing what other humans and apes are doing.
Similar to human toddlers, the 31-year old primate, who spends his day reading, writing, eating and playing with toys, has a vocabulary comprising of about a thousand words. This extraordinary animal communicates in full sentences using lexigrams - symbols that represent words or object like "water" or "shoe" and even actions such as "run" or "laugh".
To get his message across, Kanzi either taps the symbols on a keyboard or simply points to them on a laminated sheet of paper. For instance, to order a pizza, he points to the symbols of tomato, cheese and bread. And, he can even verbalize a few full sentences in English. While, some other apes have learned a human language before, Kanzi is unusual because he is largely self-taught.
His path to wisdom began when the sanctuary psychologist Sue Savage-Rumbaugh was trying to teach Matata, Kanzi's mother, the sign language. While she never really got the hang of it, her little infant Kanzi, who had been watching the entire time, certainly did.
Then one fine day, she shocked the scientists by using the symbols correctly - Realizing he may be a better candidate then his mother, they began training him instead. He did so well that the scientists teamed up with him to write a research paper -The first ever to be co-authored by an animal.
Besides communicating with humans, Kanzi has also learned how to build a fire and prepare meals. He is often seen gathering wood, placing it in a pile and carefully lighting up a fire. Once the flames get going, he picks up some twigs, requests marshmallows using his keyboard and then, kicks back to enjoy the roasted treat.
When he is not learning, Kanzi relaxes by playing arcade games, hanging out with his 1.5 year old son Teco and, watching videos - His all time favorite? Greystoke: The Legend Of The Tarzan!
Native to Africa's Congo River, Bonobo apes are the closest extant relative to humans. Often called pygmy chimpanzees after the pygmy people that reside in the area, the primates have long legs, distinct pink lips, dark faces and long hair that is parted along the middle. The largely frugivorous animals that live up to the ripe-old age of 40 when in captivity, are extremely smart and known to be a peaceful species.
Unfortunately, just like many others, loss of habitat and human poaching has taken its toll on their population and there are currently estimated to be less than 50,000 left in the wild - Making them, a highly endangered species. To read more about them and see how you can help, go to www.bonobo.org.
Sources: scholastic.com, gimundo.com, wikipedia.org.