Tagged: Chimp Communication
09/13/2021 at 6:30 pm #85228Sukey WilliamsGold Member
I was reading Val’s Hidden Secrets to Communication, and I stopped on page 9 when I read about dolphin and gorilla communication and Val’s statement: “Gorillas taught sign language can make up new words to say what they need to express if they haven’t been taught the word or phrase for it.”
I decided to share a personal story about five sign language chimps I worked with at the Chimpanzee Human Communication Institute (CHCI) at Central Washington University.
In 1999, I was accepted by Dr. Roger Fouts into his Psychology Master’s program at CHCI. I arrived five months early to get settled into the town of Ellensburg and join their internship program. Although I have many stories, this one is my favorite and it supports Val’s statement. (Keep in mind that I don’t know whether this story can legally be shared beyond this forum.)
If Dr. Fouts’ name doesn’t ring a bell, he was the graduate student that saved Washoe from horrible conditions and he was the first to teach a chimpanzee sign language. Later, he built CHCI and saved four more chimps, all of whom learned sign language from Washoe.
At CHCI, each night a graduate student is required to sleep on-site to ensure the chimps are safe. On one morning during my time there, the graduate student on duty shared what happened the previous night in a CHCI meeting.
First of all, the facility has multiple indoor rooms and a giant “exclosure” with strong “netting” to keep humans out and the chimps in. Additionally, there is a thick steel door that separates the indoor facility from the “exclosure” that is open during the day and closed by a graduate student when all the chimps are in for the night. The chimps can swing from tree to tree and jump on and off structures etc.
Secondly, there is a CHCI rule that all the chimps were well aware of, which was that when they were called inside for dinner, all the chimps must come inside. If one or more chimps stayed outside, they were all given dinner but none of them get their dessert, which was a cookie that night. The grad student said that Tatu, who had been using sticks and other tools all day long and late into the night trying to snag one lone apple off a small Charlie Brown tree located just outside the chain link fencing at the base where the “exclosure” met the ground. Tatu refused to come inside. So, the grad student fed the other four chimps their dinners and when Tatu finally gave up her pursuit and came inside, he fed her dinner as well.
Tatu then looked at the grad student and did something extraordinary. She simultaneously signed “cookie” and “Shhhh,” placing her first finger on her pierced lips. She had not only combined two signs that had never been combined before but she was also sending a message of deception: Give me a cookie and we won’t tell anyone else. Deception is one of the highest forms of intelligence.
So, what did the grad student do? He gave them all cookies to reward and encourage them to combine more signs and concepts!
09/14/2021 at 5:34 pm #85229IpekSilver Member
Wow, thanks for sharing this. As a scientist who works on animal behavior, I found the story quite exciting. I suspect many researchers experience incredible events such as these that leave them in awe, but just don’t get an opportunity to follow up on them. I’d love to know if the grad student (or others in the lab) saw this behavior again? Also, it is so awesome that you had the opportunity work with the chimps!
09/15/2021 at 11:15 am #85230Sukey WilliamsGold Member
Good morning Ipek!
I’m so glad you liked this story as it is near and dear to my heart. I also worked with four Bottlenose dolphins doing very kind, respectable cognitive research in Hawaii at the Kewalo Basin Marine Mammal Lab, which was associated with the University of Hawaii. This was also an amazing experience! And, after two interesting incidences at the lab, I proposed devising a keyboard for the dolphins to create their own music but, unfortunately, the Director didn’t find this interesting enough. As a result, I moved on to work with the chimps. In retrospect, I wished I pushed harder for this.
Although I don’t have an answer as to whether they saw this behavior again because, due to circumstances beyond my control, I needed to leave one of the biggest opportunities of my life, but I do know that all the staff and grad students would have kept rewarding the chimps for combining signs and concepts so I strongly suspect this behavior grew. I certainly hope so!
Note: I also suggested devising a keyboard for the chimps to create their own music but it was met by the Director with the same lackluster response. They sell the chimps’ paintings so why not let them create music they enjoy and sell their recordings?
Although neither was meant to be, I strongly believe that I’m where I’m supposed to be … communicating with animals. After all, so much of my life has been directly related to communicating with animals.
Back to working through Val’s training courses and practicing her meditations!
Stay tuned … I’ll share a few more stories about the dolphins and chimps and their depth of emotions and intelligence. 🙂
09/16/2021 at 6:26 pm #85252IpekSilver Member
Thanks so much for your reply to my post! I can’t believe the directors did not like the idea of chimps/dolphins making their own music. As you said, paintings by animals are a huge hit in many places, and I know many people who would have loved to hear music made by animals. I am glad to learn you are enjoying your animal communication journey; I am quite a beginner in this area, so I feel I have quite a long way to go. Looking forward to reading more of your stories on dolphins and chimps!
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