Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Bonnie the whistling orangutan
Bonnie, a 30-year-old female orangutan whistles. Now that is not a weird as a French person showering or an interesting Canadian but it is still important news. From my extensive knowledge of computer games and films I knew simians could kidnap damsels then either throw barrels or climb skyscrapers but whistling?
Bonnie being able to whistle is important because it shows these apes have control over their vocalisations and their sounds can be voluntary.
This means that voluntary vocal abilities are not purely a human ability. Bonnie learned to whistle by copying her zoo keeper rather then through being taught explicitly. This means orangutans have far more vocal abilities than previously believed and so humans vocal language skills are shared at least in part with other species.
Which leads to many questions, Should we upgrade the rights we give Orangutans? Or more likely should we downgrade the rights of wolf-whistling builders? Could we have have zoos with exhibits of brick layers who strut and preen occasionally shouting mating calls at passers bye? That does not sound much different to many building sites I have seen.
Now the comparison of human and orangutan may not be fair. I can't whistle and I'm significantly worse at hanging out of trees. On the positive side I'm nearly as house trained so I am not overly worried about getting replaced just yet.
The revelation comes from a paper published in December in Primates, an international journal of primatology. The Christmas edition of Primates is out? And I missed it? That is the one with the free 2009 calender. I hear the miss April Gibbon is a babe.
If they can whistle what else can the do? After whistling a full Christmas carol album can't be far behind. A simian soundtrack to the festive season is imminent.
How annoyed is Jane Goodall going to be when she finds out about this? She probably has her chimps working on a a full barbershop album right now.
All the articles on this keep pointing out she is 30? Bonnie is still on the market and pointing out shes a trigenarian and getting on a bit cannot help her in the dating stakes.
Great Ape Trust scientist Dr. Serge Wich said "This is important because it provides a mechanism to explain documented between-population variation in sounds for wild orangutans," Did you know animals had accents? Do Hillbilly mountain monkeys get looked down on by the urbane city slicker zoo ones?
Not only that but the orangutans are teaching each other how to whistle. Indah was a roommate of Bonnie and she learned to whistle from Bonnie. Unfortunately Indah died before they could record a Christmas duet single. They can teach other this stuff? If one ever figures out how to lay bricks builders are in trouble.