[monkeywire] Bonnie the Whistling Orangutan
josh.greenman at gmail.com
Mon Mar 23 17:15:48 EDT 2009
Bonnie the Whistling Orangutan
We humans used to think there were lots of things we can do that animals can't.
For example, I'll bet you think animals can't whistle - at least not like we do.
Well, guess again.
There's an orangutan named Bonnie who can do just that.
Bonnie lives at the National Zoo in Washington, DC.
And experts say she taught herself how to whistle, probably by
imitating humans she saw at the zoo.
"She's very observant," said zookeeper Erin Stromberg, in an interview
with National Geographic News. "She always watches people and what
Zoo workers say no one ever sat Bonnie down and taught her how to whistle.
They say she just picked it up herself.
Not only that, they say she has taught at least one other orangutan at
the zoo how to whistle.
"She's been doing it for years," Stromberg told Reuters news service.
"And we didn't realize really the significance until we started
looking at other research ... She's the first documented whistling
orangutan that learned it on her own."
According to Reuters, ape experts say Bonnie proves that orangutans
can learn what's known as "auditory behavior" on their own, by choice
- not to get a reward from a human, but simply because they want to.
The ape experts also say Bonnie's ability to imitate what she hears
might help scientists better understand how we humans developed the
ability to speak in languages.
After all, orangutans and other apes are our closest animal relatives.
Bonnie has also picked up other "human" behaviors just by watching.
According to the Washington Post, she's been known to grab a fistful
of hay and sweep out her den, as if she had a broom. She's also been
known to grab a rag and clean the windows. Bonnie lives at the
National Zoo with her son Kiko. According to the Post, she has also
"adopted" another young orangutan named Kyle.
She's described as intelligent, curious, gregarious and intuitive.
("Gregarious" means outgoing. And someone who's "intuitive" can pick
things up without really having to think about what she's learning.)
"Orangutans in general are incredibly intelligent. But Bonnie is
definitely even more so," Stromberg told the Post. "She never misses a
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