Aug 18, 2008


the Ape at the Brink of the Human Mind
by Sue Rumbaugh

Kanzi is a bonobo, or pygmy chimpanzee. In 1980 his mother was involved in language experiments. Kanzi sat with his mother through her lessons and tests. She did quite poorly. To everyone's surprise, one day when the mother ape was not there, Kanzi demonstrated that he had learned by observation the symbols they had been attempting to teach her. He was eventually able to identify and respond to over two hundred lexigrams, follow verbal directions given in English, play simple computer games (I saw him beat Pac-Man in a video) and forced his teachers to begin spelling words when they didn't want him to understand what they were saying. I thought of this book because I recently viewed a film made of Kanzi and the researcher who worked with him, Sue Rumbaugh. It was even more fascinating to watch a brief five-minute clip of Kanzi than to read a few hundred pages describing the research work and his abilities. If you doubt that apes can learn a rudimentary use of language, I'd say, go read Kanzi! It's a fascinating book.

Rating: 4/5                  299 pages, 1996


Ruby (Mouth) said...

I saw this book on a library self and wondered how it was. I am not much for apes and reading about them, but the way you described this I may have to give it a try.

Thnks for changing my mind. LOL!!

Julie Roads said...

Hi! Great feature...If anyone has kids then you might be interested in I'm Lucy: A Day in the Life of a Young Bonobo - it's a beautifully photographed children's book about Kanzi's half sister, Lucy, who lives in the Jacksonville Zoo. Jane Goodall wrote the afterword and all profits go to her organization and the Bonobo Conservation Initiative IF and ONLY IF, the book is bought from the books awesome website: Also check out their blog:
Help save the bonobos!

Jeane said...

Thanks for the info, Julie Roads. I think Kanzi's sister is mentioned a little in the book, but she certainly doesn't get the spotlight there. I'd love to read a book just about her!