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Beautiful minds – Apes and Dolphins.

Beautiful minds.
  The parallel lives of great apes and dolhins.
  by Maddalena Bearzi and Craig B. Stanford
 
  When the sun rises in the east over the Gombe national park in Tanzania,
the chimpanzees wake up, pull themselves upright
in their nests and look out over the forest.
Each tree with a sleeping ape or two.
 
  The scenery seems very familiar to us. And the book
is filled which such wonderful imagery.
  Along with a lot of facts. Which again
hammers home the similarities: A chimp life-cycle is almost human.
They reach puberty in their early teen years.
Females have offspring at around 15. They live to be around 45 in the wild.
  Famed Jane Goodall have studied them for more than 40 years,
and have reported that they even share their dark side with us.
E.g. she has reported chimp infanticide, cannibalism and warfare.
  Some sides of chimp “society” too dark for primetime tv you
kind of wonder? Certainly, I dont recall seeing TV broadcasts
on what it actually means to be a brutalized chimp female?
I.e. life among the chimpanzees is male dominated.
The topranking female is subordinate to even
lowliest male. Accordingly, females are brutalized
for sex, if they do not produce.
  A bit better among the bonobos though. Where bonobo females are bit
more clever,
forming coalitions that prevent males from exerting power. Even
attacking and badly injuring males. Unheard of
among chimpanzees.
 
  Bearzi and Stanford also gives us a lot
of detail about chimp hunting. Another of these animals almost
human activities? I.e. Chimpanzees go hunting,
both for nutritional and social purposes. If
the hunt is successful, sharing meat allows the chimps
to build friendships. It is all about the politics. Sharing meat is
an act with
a clear message – not only will a male not share with a rival, but will
use it to show how unimportant the rival is.
  Very human in this readers mind. And come to think
of it, wasnt meat eating one of the things that made us human
2 – 3 million years ago?
  On it goes. Chimps go on (war) patrols to see if there is any intruders in
their area. Not exactly completely ordered patrols though,
there is sex, squabbling and mounching food as they go,
but still it is a patrol. If the patrol meets
a lonely chimp from another camp, the lone chimp is beaten terriblely.
If not murdered.
 
  And then of course – the apes uses tools. We
have seen various tool use on tv, such as sticks for eating termites
etc.
  Stanford gives us a new tool use among apes: Females in some
populations of orangutang employ sticks as auto erotic tools for
sexual stimulation…sisters be free…
 
  And great apes (Chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutang)
are not the only animals who use tools, solve problems, cooperate,
fight each other and much more. The cetaceans (Dolphins and whales)
are also quite clever. And the other half of this book
is about them (Leaving the elephants out seems to this reader
a shortcoming).
 
  Again, dolphin lives are sort of familiar. A dolphin continue to
breed well into its forties and live into its fifties.
And dolphins dont exactly use their large brains
(Much of the dolphin brain has to do with
making and understanding sounds, both vocal and sonar) just to
save human swimmers in distress. They also have darker sides.
  I.e. Dolphin sexuality makes Sodom and Gomorrah
look kind of civilised. In the Dolphin world it is not unusual to see
infant males trying to mount their mothers, young males
sexually harressing older males. older males mounting calves,
or adult males mounting other males to express dominance.
  And it is just another day in the office
(sea) when two males gang up on a female and bully her to mate.
  The book gives all the gory details.
  To say the least. Promiscuity seem to be the rule among the
dolpins, as it is with the apes.
 
  As for apes and humans, dolphins can use their large brains to cope with
increasingly complex social relations. Where each individual must
remember rivalries, debts, and credits within the group. And where the ability
to manipulate the group is what makes an individual successful.
  Luckily the dolphins are not just about the politics.
Bearzi gives us wonderful stories of dolphins simulating smoking (!),
and helping with (their) tank cleaning.
  Thats where you kind of want to go dolphin and live with them.
But communication is still difficult though. Sure, according to
neurophysiologist
John Lilly, we should learn how to communicate with the dolphins
to prepare for communication with intelligent life
in outer space. Still, dophin language isnt all that easy to break.
  Obviously they think about sonar sounds we cant hear,
and swim where we would drown, and have no hands
to make gestures (if messages dont come accross with speech).
  And who knows, maybe dolphin language isnt all that rich
afterall. Certainly, chimp language is so limited that it
compares with the language of a two year old child.
  Still Kanzi (bonobo) can follow complex
commands like – go to the refrigerator in the next room,
and bring the red ball on the top shelf.
  But the book could have given us much more on what
the dolphins really are thinking about. But probably only
the dolphins know.
  Something is going on though.
  Mark the body of a subject animal with paint,
and encourage the animal to look in a mirror,
then observe the reactions. Chimps, gorillas,
bonobos, orangutans and dolphins and killer whales
all showed a positive self recognition response to the paint.
 
  The book ends by telling us that the dolphins have
been here for a long time. If brain size is expressed in relation
to body size, the humans are at the top, but going back 2 million years
and using this measurement the brainiest animal was not
a hominid, but a dolphin.
  But now the seas are increasingly becoming polluted.
And overcrowded – Sure, Humans like to swim with dolphins. Its big business,
but from the dolphins point of view it might not
be all that great – they might be more pleased with
just relaxing in clean oceans – alone.
 Not much better for apes. With the forest being cut down
and little human respect for the needs of apes.
 
  Obviously, after having read a book like this,
you would think more should be done to protect the animals. It sounds
a lot like murder actually, what is going on around the world.
The only good thing of course is that there are people like
Bearzi and Stanford out there to stop it.
  And make the world a better place – also
for apes and dolphins.
 
Aug 25th 2009
 
-Simon
 
 
Simon Laub
 
http://www.simonlaub.dk

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