Smart Chimpanzees, Stupid Human Beings

An Associated Press dispatch from Sweden:

STOCKHOLM – A canny chimpanzee who calmly collected a stash of rocks and then hurled them at zoo visitors in fits of rage has confirmed that apes can plan ahead just like humans, a Swedish study said Monday. Santino the chimpanzee’s anti-social behavior stunned both visitors and keepers at the Furuvik Zoo but fascinated researchers because it was so carefully prepared.

According to a report in the journal Current Biology, the 31-year-old alpha male started building his weapons cache in the morning before the zoo opened, collecting rocks and knocking out disks from concrete boulders inside his enclosure. He waited until around midday before he unleashed a “hailstorm” of rocks against visitors, the study said.

“Anti-social behavior?” Who locked up whom in a confined space? Further down in the article, we get this:

For a while, zoo keepers tried locking Santino up in the morning so he couldn’t collect ammunition for his assaults, but he remained aggressive. They ultimately decided to castrate him in the autumn last year, but will have to wait until the summer to see if that helps. The chimpanzees are only kept outdoors between April and October and Santino’s special behavior usually occurs in June and July.

“It is normal behavior for alpha males to want to influence their surroundings … It is extremely frustrating for him that there are people out of his reach who are pointing at him and laughing,” Osvath said. “It cannot be good to be so furious all the time.”

Here’s a thought: It also cannot be good to be kept indoors for half of the year! And even chimpanzees, our closest relatives, can probably tell when they’re being laughed at!

11 Responses to “Smart Chimpanzees, Stupid Human Beings”

  1. m says:

    That breaks my heart. That poor animal should be at a sanctuary not a zoo.

  2. wordnerd says:

    …”apes can plan ahead just like humans”

    What evidence is there that humans can plan ahead? Cf. the “victims” of Madoff.

  3. wordnerd says:

    …and Harvard and MIT, now in the thores of fiscal turmoil…

  4. eric says:

    Do people still go to zoos? I took my daughter to one last year–it was totally deserted, and deeply disturbing. The animals seemed to have two strategies, torpor or pacing. None had advanced to stone throwing, although the wolves looked at us with what seemed to be real malice.

  5. dc says:

    eric: Isn’t it funny that we still use the expression “It was a zoo!” to describe things like maniacal shoppers looking for bargains at Best Buy on the day after Thanksgiving, while real zoos are totally unchaotic? Unless you count an enclosed wildlife rehab center in Alaska, the last zoo I went to was the San Diego zoo. I find zoos simultaneously fun and disturbing.

    The global primate revolution may have begun. Check out this story from Thailand:

    A monkey who was forced to climb palm trees by his owner took revenge by killing him with a coconut.

    The animal threw the missile from the top of a tree after becoming frustrated with his tiring labour, according to reports.

    Leilit Janchoom, 48, had employed the monkey to pick coconuts which he could then sell for around 4p each.

    The animal – named Brother Kwan – found the work tedious and strenuous but Mr Janchoom refused to let him rest, dishing out beatings if he refused to climb trees.

    It is believed that the monkey eventually snapped, and targeted his owner from a high branch with one of the hard-skinned fruits.

    Mr Janchoom, from the province of Nakorn Sri Thammarat in Thailand, died on the spot after being struck by the coconut, according to reports in a local newspaper.

    The dead man’s wife said that the monkey had “seemed lovable” when they bought him for £130.

    wordnerd: We modern humans hold contradictory beliefs: We often treat our pets — whether they be chimpanzees or dogs — as human family members, to the detriment of the animals’ mental health; then when animals behave as they have evolved to behave, we rush to fall back on the false dichotomy between “rational” and “predictable” human beings and “wild” animals.

    These stories always remind me of Nabokov’s anecdote in the afterword to Lolita about the ape who was encouraged to draw a picture by its handlers, and when it finally did, it drew the bars of its own cage.

    Incidentally, if anyone feels like doing some pro bono editing, the first few sentences of the Wikipedia entry on Monkeys could use some help.

  6. avoice says:

    Boy, this is weirdly similar to “Planet of the Apes” where the apes were planning to castrate Charlton Heston because he was too smart.

  7. V Smoothe says:

    How does it hurt your dog’s mental health to treat them like family?

  8. dc says:

    V Smoothe: Treating dogs like family is all to the good; I certainly treat my own dog like family. I said that we often treat our pets as human family members, and I believe that is detrimental to their mental health. Dogs have evolved (and been bred) over the millennia to have a particular psychological makeup, and just as it would be child abuse to make one’s son or daughter crawl around on all fours in a field in the rain sniffing for scents, it is dog abuse not to allow one’s dog to fulfill its doggy nature by doing things like that. Dogs are wonderful family members, but I think it’s important to remind oneself that they are still dogs, even if they curl up on the couch to “watch” Dancing with the Stars with the rest of the family.

  9. V Smoothe says:

    That’s totally fair, DC. Dogs should be allowed to be dogs. I perhaps misunderstood for a moment there. It sort of seemed (maybe only to me, because I have a tendency to be oversensitive about these things), that you were somehow equating the way people treat their dogs with abused zoo animals.

  10. dc says:

    V Smoothe: No, I didn’t intend to equate those things. When I made the remark, I was thinking specifically of the chimpanzee in Connecticut who attacked a friend of its owner last month, after being treated disturbingly like a human being instead of a chimpanzee. I think that chimpanzees belong in the forest with another chimpanzees — not in Stamford, CT eating ice cream and watching television.

    As for dogs, some dog owners also seem to blur the distinction between dogs and humans in ways that seem unhealthy to me. I’m thinking, for example, of people who spend small fortunes sending their dogs to high-end “spas” while they are at work, but don’t spend time taking their dogs for a decent walk on a regular basis. Just because a person might appreciate a day of pampering at a spa doesn’t mean that it’s the best thing for a dog. Or I occasionally hear people saying that they hate leaving their dog at home when they go out in the evening because the dog’s feelings might be hurt. In my opinion, hurt feelings aren’t in a dog’s emotional repertoire, but dogs are very attuned to humans’ emotional states, and a dog is likely to develop separation anxiety if its owners project human neuroses onto the dog whenever they leave home for a few hours. I think it’s fun to take dogs along to bars or to parties if they are welcome there, but if we have to leave them at home, we shouldn’t project our own human insecurities onto our dogs.

  11. m says:


    I do think dog’s feelings can get hurt. Of course I could be anthropomorphizing. Though we are different from many other animals we are all animals in the end and I don’t think dogs are all that different from us when it comes to emotion. They do get depressed, excited, embarassed, lonely, etc. They seem to at least, but again that could just be human projection, although my gut tells me it isn’t. Anyway I totally agree that animals need to heed their instincts and we shouldn’t prevent that. Actually I think humans need to heed their instints and connections to the natural world a whole lot more too but we often seem to overlook that as well.

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