Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The wonderful world of science! (Or Dada has a PETA moment.)

Several years ago I paid a visit to the zoo. It was on a Memorial Day weekend and it was hot. I supposed the zoo was far busier that holiday than it normally would be during the week.

Strolling down the trail past the 'exhibits,' I paused beside a pair of chimpanzees in their outdoor compound. They were sitting atop a large rock sunning themselves. I watched for several minutes as the public attempted interactions. Some were pretty goofy.

The chimps just sat there placidly staring back at us, coldly emotionless. In fact, as I stood there, I soon realized the inane attempts of the public trying to get the chimps to react were far more animated and amusing than the apes were. They were outshining the monkeys! As I walked on, I imagined one chimp saying to his partner, "It's a real zoo out there today, huh?"

This all took me back some years earlier to a visit to the Portland zoo. The camel and the penguins still stand out in my mind. But there was a very special moment that left me emotionally in tears. It was outside the indoor cage of a lone chimpanzee.

A group of four teenagers were having a ball harassing, then laughing at, the chimp who sat motionless watching the youngsters enjoying the infectious hillarity they shared. I was incredulous at the teens 'monkeying' around, not just for themselves or the chimp, but anyone else in the vicinity as well. It was then the chimpanzee did an amazing thing.

Without hint of emotion, he casually got up and strolled to the back of his cage between the dangling ropes and tire swing for a drink of water. He then returned to his former place next to the silly teenagers. Resuming their taunts, the chimp suddenly shot his mouth load of water at the kids. They wailed in laughter. Only because there was a glass wall between themselves and this monkey. I had to leave as the tears welled up in my eyes.


Well, this week we learned that the knowledge base of science continues its endless march forward. I'm referring to the recent story about its latest discovery. Apparently, as a result of keen observations, we learned that much like ants, squirrels, blue jays and geckos, etc., chimpanzees make plans! Isn't that just fucking amazing!

This astute scientific conclusion was reached after observing "31-year-old alpha male started building a 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," causing Swedish scientists to conclude, " apes can plan ahead just like humans"! Holy shit, that's pretty damned incredible!

Conclusion of scientists: "These observations convincingly show that our fellow apes do consider the future in a very complex way," said .... Lund University Ph.D. student Mathias Osvath. "It implies that they have a highly developed consciousness, including lifelike mental simulations of potential events."

The behavior of this aggressive chimp in Sweden's Furuvik Zoo was very reminiscent of the similar behavior Dada had witnessed at the Portland zoo, leaving me to ponder how much further along animal behavioral scientists would have been today if only that Ph.D. candidate had been with me in Portland thirty years earlier.

Hence, at this point, Dada would like to make a suggestion that might save scientists a lot of time observing chimpanzees in the future. I know how they love to anthropomorphize by assigning human characteristics to actions of not just monkeys but the entire wild kingdom. However, no matter how long they observe chimps, they will never find them constructing banks and stock markets to swindle other chimps out of their rightful belongings. Nor will they discover chimps have secret caches of missile spewing drone aircraft or nuclear weapons to anihilate millions, perhaps billions of their fellow monkeys to defend the empires they build. That's because the apes don't build banks, stock markets, empires or the weapons required to defend them. That's also because there aren't billions of 'em to kill either. Sadly, they number about 300,000 globally.

So save yourself some time, science. You'll find the chimpanzees do not possess such amenities indicative of the advanced culture humans enjoy. Nor are they likely to ever possess such. That's because monkeys don't enjoy the extreme intelligence of your species. They are not as evolved as you are. Nor is it likely they ever will be, especially if you and your science has its way and succeeds in blowing 'em to oblivion. Including yourselves and millions of other species along with them, of course.

Such are the advantages of enjoying the benefits of being the most advanced intellectual species on the planet, I suppose.


Fran said...

So when I take a banana for a snack in the corporate world, does that mean I am reverting to primate behavior?

Dada said...

Fran: Not consuming that banana on the spot in the super market, opting instead to buy it, bring it home and later take it into corporate world to consume on a break demonstrates your ability to plan ahead just like chimpanzees!

Your banana example "convincingly shows that our fellow humans do consider the future in a very complex way. It implies that we have a highly developed consciousness, including lifelike mental simulations of potential events" just as the chimps do.

It's too bad we don't use it.

Fran said...

Who knew banana consumption equates to such a high IQ???

Can'r help but notice the corporate world is much like a jungle.

Dada said...

Fran: This is totally off topic but I want to point out one positive in this otherwise bleak state of all things econmic:

I saw the latest state by state unemployment figures released yesterday. You and Mr. Ramblings must feel a little pride in helping Oregon surpass California (10.9% vs. 10.6% respectively)! Congratulations!

OK, enough sarcasm for today: Yes, corporate world can be a jungle alright. What's that old song? "Sometimes I wonder how I keep from goin' under."

Border Explorer said...

Plan ahead "just like humans?" Well, when I look at current events, it seems to me that we humans are living like there is no tomorrow. In other words, we're not planning ahead very well at all, despite our claims of 'higher intelligence." Thus, the nuclear annihilation allusion at your conclusion, I suppose?

Border Explorer said...

One more thing, that story from the Portland zoo brought tears to my eyes, too.

D.K. Raed said...

when I read that recent story of the supercalifragilistic discovery that chimps (gasp) plan ahead, I was shocked, SHOCKED ... not about their ability to plan, no ... about the idiots who are in charge of them, running the prison, umm zoos, who have obviously never bothered to read Jane Goodall, and thus know fuckall about their prisoners, um wards, um furry little balls of primate love.

Goodall wrote all about the many generations of Gombee chimps she observed. She was shocked to discover they do indeed wage war on neighboring tribes. They plan out military maneuvers such as staging perimeter guards and recon teams that will jump & kill chimps from neighboring tribes, even if they're minding their own business in their own territory, as long as the odds favor success. She wrote details of a tribe that for no apparent reason began an agressive program of territory expansion that resulted in deadly war that went on for generations.

So much for the passive ape theory. Gorillas are far less agressive than chimps, far more likely to put on a show of strength without actually killing. Surprise! We share more DNA with chimps than gorillas.

So I hate to think what would happen if chimps ever did get control of the levers of power that we humans wield so ruthlessly. Oh wait, maybe that's exactly what has happened. The common ancestor we share must've been a real bloody bastard!

Dada said...

Oh B.E., the veneer shielding my misanthropism wears thin and I grow weary at times trying to suppress or conceal it, which only increases my admiration for your endless source of commitment and hope for us all. Is there a vitamin supplement you take for that? What's your secret, Huh? Huh?

Deke: Excellent point. WTF's that brilliant PhD candidate been reading for his dissertation, King Kong comics? Hell, even I was aware of Goodall's observations (must have been on TV seeing as how I don't read) and I'm sure I was as shocked as she to learn of the violent ways of our cousins, so I wasn't trying to elevate them beyond us. Rather, just get humanity to feel a little sensitivity and compassion for all living things and cut the amazement crap out of their realization that the animal world can freakin' THINK!!

As I was lying half-way out in the street earlier this week, painting house numbers on our curb, I mused at the confusion and sudden tension I was creating among the ants. Apparently I was disrupting their normal traffic flow but I enjoyed watching 'em inspect what the hell I was doing. Apparently I was smack dab in the middle of a major ant commerce route.

I'm pleased to say no ants were harmed in the painting of the curbs, but it was fun to watch 'em dodge the gooey paint which, entered into, would have meant their hasty departure into their 'forever destiny.'

But I digress. I have a history with butterflies. Some enjoy landing on me. One once, after asking for a sign, complied by doing exactly as I'd asked in the most profound way. Not once, but four times (just to make sure I got the point!).

Well, as I was painting the curb, I had the pleasure of watching a skipper, very old already for an early spring. He flew in low from across the street right into the "V" of my left arm resting on the concrete. I could see his wings were tattered and gray. He'd obviously been around for awhile and was nearing 'his time'. After resting for a minute, he resumed his journey to wherever he had to go, but not before we communed and he reminded me my wings are getting tattered, too, and we are all on the same journey.

D.K. Raed said...

well Jane Goodall is a hero of mine, so I was surprised that any supposed primatologist could be so dumb. but considering the economy, maybe that zoo had had to cut back on employee expenses and so their primatologist is on unemployment now, and the former primate poop-scooper is thus elevated to doing King Kong Comix analysis! let's just hope he or she makes enough money to afford The Science or The Discovery Channel and catches some Goodall TV special in between scooping poop. I'm not disparaging of poop-scoopers, though, they are VITAL and should be required to follow members of congress around 24/7.

Your butterfly experience reminded me of the Butterfly Pavillion at the San Diego Wild Animal Park. We were some of the first visitors to that fragile exhibit. They built it like a bird aviary which meant that EK was leery of entering (having been copiously pooped on by an aviary Toucan some years prior, he has refused to enter any aviaries since). He was finally convinced that butterfly poop would be insignificant (if I seem to be on a poop theme, it is totally unintentional & I promise that is the last poop reference I'll make).

At the entrance, a park emp'ee was warning everyone how to behave (don't try to catch or touch the butterflies, just walk slowly through & they will get out of your way). When she saw me, she said, "oh you'll be very popular". Turns out between my bright green & yellow shirt & my red hair, I was mobbed. There were representative butterflies from everywhere, all sizes & colors, flying freely around the aviary. The word spread quickly & it seemed every one of these Ambassadors of Peace wanted to come make friends (or perhaps more likely come & try out the new flower)! I just kept walking slowly as we'd been advised. By the time we were ready to exit, there were so many different butterflies clinging to me, including a huge one as big as my hand sitting on top of my head, slowly flapping its wings, that the park emp'ee had to wave some kind of feather wand at me to scatter them back into the exhibit. It was an amazing experience. I'll never forget the feeling of their delicate little feet walking along my bare arms & legs. I felt kind of bad for fooling them with my flower-bright but ultimately non-nutritional shirt.

Dada said...

Thanks for sharing your butterfly pavilion experience D.K. Sounds like you were a hands down favorite. The first place we hit after landing on Vancouver Island as we were driving to Victoria was a similar exhibit. Whew, the place was very warm and humid. I have to say it was the most enchanting exhibit I think I've ever witnessed.

Several years later our local zoo had one up for a month of so. There was no keeping us away. And, gads, are there some colorful and very exotic ones though? Absolutely loved it both times.