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News Link • Biology, Botany and Zoology

Stone-Throwing Chimp Thinks Ahead

•, By Michael Balter
 Santino, a resident of the Furuvik Zoo in Gävle, Sweden, calmly gathered stones in the mornings and put them into neat piles, apparently saving them to hurl at visitors when the zoo opened as part of angry and aggressive “dominance displays.”
But some researchers were skeptical that Santino really was planning for a future emotional outburst. Perhaps he was just repeating previously learned responses to the zoo visitors, via a cognitively simpler process called associative learning. And it is normal behavior for dominant male chimps to throw things at visitors, such as sticks, branches, rocks, and even feces. Now Santino is back in the scientific literature, the subject of new claims that he has begun to conceal the stones so he can get a closer aim at his targets—further evidence that he is thinking ahead like humans do.

 The debate over Santino is part of a larger controversy over whether some humanlike animal behaviors might have simpler explanations. For example, Sara Shettleworth, a psychologist at the University of Toronto in Canada, argued in a widely cited 2010 article entitled, “Clever animals and killjoy explanations in comparative psychology,” that the zookeepers and researchers who observed Santino’s stone-throwing over the course of a decade had not seen him gathering the stones, and thus could not know why he originally starting doing so. Santino, Shettleworth and some others argued, might have had some other reasons for caching the stones, and the stone throwing might have been an afterthought.

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