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Thursday, July 30, 2015

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Kanzi the bonobo lighting a fire and cooking a meal (11 Pics)

These extraordinary photos show a bonobo - also known as a pygmy chimpanzee - named Kanzi collecting wood, breaking it up and putting it into a pile before striking a match to light the fire, and then cooking his meal on the fire.
The 12-stone male (170lb) collects firewood and breaks the sticks into smaller sizes.
After arranging them in a pile...
...Kanzi, 31, ignites them with matches or a lighter and then watches the flames take hold.
Impressive enough, but then Kanzi erects a grill over his fire so he can cook barbecue food over it using a frying pan.
"Kanzi makes fire because he wants to," said Dr Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, his main handler at the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa, and the only scientist ever to conduct language research with bonobos. "His fascination began when he was a child, watching the film 'Quest for Fire'. The movie was released about a year after Kanzi was born and was about early man struggling to control fire. Kanzi watched this spellbound over and over hundreds of times."
Spending much of his childhood outdoors with Dr Savage-Rumbaugh, Kanzi showed interest in the campfires she made to cook food. "At age five he began making small piles of sticks and tried to light them," she added. "I had to keep a close eye on him, but I allowed it because he was clearly interested in practising it. His demeanour when he focused on making fire was just like when he watched the movie. He seemed engrossed in it and it appeared that he associated making fires with watching the film."
Kanzi and two other apes trained in language at the centre use paper keyboards to communicate with Dr Savage-Rumbaugh and fellow primatologist Liz Pugh, who helped raise them. Symbols, known as lexigrams, represent different words on the keys and help the primates to speak their mind. Kanzi understands 2000 words and even has a symbol for his own name, which he and others use to refer to him. Now, whenever Kanzi 'tells' Dr Savage-Rumbaugh he wants to make a fire, she tries to oblige. "His fire making skills interest us because fire is one of the most important factors in our evolution," said Dr Savage-Rumbaugh.
"It is not clear that Kanzi can do all aspects of making, controlling and employing fire at this point in time. For example he doesn't stay close and carefully monitor the fire once it is going, though he will throw on wood at a distance. But he has not had the true environmental pressures on him that would lead him to desire to use fires for warmth. He has a warm bed every night so he doesn't need to keep himself warm, like the humans who first harnessed fire did, and he has never encountered predators, so he doesn't need to frighten any away. If these were employed in the future, his fire-making skills might leap into the action at a much higher level. He doesn't need to sit around a fire at night, as early humans did. He heads to the safety of the concrete buildings that make up the facility. But what if they he had no such shelter? Would he want to keep their fire going to keep predators away and stay warm at night? For now, for Kanzi, fire is about making cooked food, which he enjoys very much."
Bonobos are listed as endangered by the IUCN Red List and are found only in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Africa. Over the last 30 years their population has been decreasing severely due to destruction of their habitat by humans. An old Congolese tribal legend tells that man and bonobo used to live side by side in the forests of the Congo - but went their separate ways after humans invented fire. Bonobos, the legends say, were able to make fire, but unlike the humans always put their fires out and moved on. Humans wanted to keep their fires going and so they ended up staying in villages while bonobos continued to live in the forests.

The Great Ape Trust is currently under threat due to a loss of funding - leaving Kanzi's future unclear. Sadly today (FRI) the research centre where he has perfected his mastery of fire announced it faces closure due to a major funding crisis. Without help the researchers who raised Kanzi from birth will not be able to continue studying the incredible link between man and ape - through Kanzi's use of fire and language. Research at the Trust is funded by grants from universities and other educational institutions. But feeding and housing Kanzi and his fellow apes is the responsibility of the Trust. "Without money we will have to close down," said Dr Savage-Rumbaugh. "We feel we are doing important work here and we want to continue."


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