Pics: chimp builds fire, cooks dinner and roasts marshmallows

Kanzi, a bonobo (pygmy chimpanzee) has acquired some special skills; he knows how to build a fire and cook his own food. First he learned to collect dry firewood. Now he's worked all the way up to camp chef.

Plus he's teaching others, and it's not the local Boy Scouts. He's teaching these remarkably "human" skills to other chimps, including his own son. We'll pause to reflect on Planet of the Apes for obvious reasons — and now we'll move on to the amazing story.

Researchers at The Great Ape Trust in Iowa where Kanzi calls home, say his interest in fire started young. His favorite film is Quest for Fire, having watched it over a hundred times. Later on when he showed interest in his handlers' making campfires he was encouraged to learn, copy and join in every step of the way.

And learn he did.

First learning to collect and pile tinder, Kanzi then mastered using matches, being careful not to burn himself. In fact, he's careful in general and steers clear of the fire adding wood from a distance. He sets up the cooking equipment, cooks burgers and even roast a perfect marshmallow for dessert. He's also careful to put out the fire when he wraps up, all under close supervision.

Kanzi is one of eight bonobos in the care of Dr Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, one of the world's leading experts in ape behavior and language. She reports to The Daily Mail that she believes Kanzi's fascination and handling of fire reveals a deep intelligence. Chimpanzees and apes have shown the ability to use tools before, but none have shown the level of interest and skill that Kanzi has.

To be clear, the 31-year-old bonobo was taught how to build a fire and cook. It is not a skill they appear to have instinctively, but his ability to learn does make you wonder about the link between humans and these chimps.

Bonobos share 98 to 99 percent of the same DNA as humans. So at what point did our ability to master fire separate us from our chimpanzee cousins and what does it mean for them as a species now that they have learned it?

And how does language figure in the equation?

Kanzi, whose name means "treasure" in Swahili, also uses paper keyboards to communicate with Dr. Savage-Rumbaugh and fellow primatologist Liz Pugh. He, along with two other apes they are studying, are able to converse using lexigrams that represent different words. Kanzi has learned to 'say' around 500 words and understands 3,000 spoken ones.

So, are the bonobos — one of the world's most endangered species with only an estimated 10,000 to 50,000 left in the wild — on an evolutionary path or is it just a case of "monkey see, monkey do?" Right now it seems like a little bit of movie fiction coming true…but it is an interesting thought to ponder: will there come a day when they can communicate their emotionsto us?

Via: The Daily Mail

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