Kanzi The Bonobo Makes Tools Similar To Early Human Devices [VIDEO]

By Mo Mozuch on August 21, 2012 7:03 PM EDT

Kanzi
Kanzi roasting marshmallows. He started the fire himself. (Photo: photo: Barcroft Media/Landov)

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Kanzi the Bonobo, a type of chimpanzee, has made headlines in the past for his ability to learn sign language, start fires and cook food. Now he's giving researchers reason to re-think their ideas regarding the early evolution of humans. Kanzi, a 30-year-old male chimp, was recently given a new test to analyze his problem solving skills. The tools he created mirror hominid tools found by archaeologists. The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers stuffed food into different sized logs to simulate the marrow found in animal bones. Using the tools he had learned to create in the early 90s when he was taught to make fire, Kanzi approached the problem of extracting the food from the logs in a variety of ways. He used sticks to pry open seams on the log. He smashed projectiles into it in the hopes of cracking it open. He even used flint chips to chop, drill and scrape away at the log. Those actions are significant because they fit within archaeologists definitions of ancient man's tool groups: wedges, choppers, scrapers and drills.

"Such tool production and utilization competencies reported here in Pan indicate that present-day Pan exhibits Homo-like technological competencies," the article states.

Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, a co-author of the paper, has been working with Kanzi since he was a baby. She has taught him how to communicate using a keyboard with more than 340 symbols on it, including symbols for abstract concepts such as "bad" and "now." He understands up to 3,000 human words, far beyond his keyboard vocabulary. Savage-Rumbaugh said Kanzi understands sentences such as "put the soap in the water" or "carry the TV outdoors."

"The mythology of human uniqueness is coming under challenge," she told Smithsonian Magazine. "If apes can learn language, which we once thought unique to humans, then it suggests that ability is not innate in just us."

Critics are not completely convinced that Kanzi represents the norm for bonobos, or their chimpanzee cousins. They argue that Kanzi was taught how to make his tools and speak his words, indicating that the ability is not innate to his species. Kanzi is, they claim, an exceptionally smart bonobo. The log test, in which Kanzi successfully opened 24 logs containing different foodstuffs, was attempted by a companion of his who also learned how to fashion tools. That bonobo only managed to open two logs.

So while the experts may argue on whether or not early man was much different from the modern ape, no one can dispute the exceptional abilities of Kanzi, the bonobo genius.

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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