Wednesday, October 6, 2010
NEW YORK: He has had countless articles written about him and has even been the subject of a book.
But now Kanzi the ‘talking’ ape has reached the pinnacle of his packed showbiz career – he has been the subject of a feature on Oprah Winfrey’s talkshow.
A 29-year-old bonobo, Kanzi is able to understand and communicate with humans and is believed to understand around 450 words – 30 to 40 of which he uses on a daily basis.
Kanzi has been a celebrity ape since the late 1980s when his astonishing ability to communicate was first discovered.
He lives at the Great Ape Trust in Iowa where expert Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh has been teaching him to ‘speak’ by pointing at symbols on a computer.
He speaks by pressing a symbol on the computer which then repeats the word out loud. Dr Savage-Rumbaugh says that he is even able to put together two-word sentences and shows remarkable invention when creating new phrases.
Oprah Winfrey correspondent Lisa Ling travelled to meet Kanzi at the Trust. On the show she told Oprah that the symbol for ‘flood’ was not on Kanzi's keyboard .
She said: ‘So when Iowa was hit by the storm and was flooding, he would point out 'big water,
She added: ‘He had a hard time chewing the kale, so he pointed at 'slow lettuce'.'’
For the word 'pizza,' he pointed at 'cheese,' 'tomato' and 'bread.'
Dr. Savage-Rumbaugh says she taught Kanzi to communicate the same way she taught her son to speak. 'I just talk to Kanzi like you see me talking now,’ she said.
'He just was around me and learned it like a child.'
Kanzi is also able to blow up a balloon, demonstrating that he has control over his own breath, something that it was previously believed that only humans were able to do.
The Trust also takes care of Teco, Kanzi's 3-month-old son. Teco’s mother passed him to another bonobo, who passed him to Dr. Savage-Rumbaugh.
She said: 'For all practical purposes, I'm Teco's mother. Teco sleeps right with me. We're in that little room where we watch TV. We each have a futon.'
She believes that Teco may even one day be able to surpass his father with his linguistic ability as he has been around humans since birth.
Kanzi has been the subject of a book as well as features in National Geographic and Time magazines. He became famous after becoming the first ape to learn language naturalistically rather than being trained by following what his mother was doing.
The first ape to be able to show that he truly understands spoken English, Kanzi is also adept at stone toolmaking, helping scientists to better understand levels of skill in our early prehistoric ancestors.