A trained bonobo has been filmed making simple stone tools. Does that qualify for genius status?
In a shameless headline to lessen the gulf between apes and humans, New Scientist reporter Hannah Krakauer announced, “Bonobo genius makes stone tools like early humans did.” Without diminishing Kanzi’s engineering feats with rocks, it seems a stretch for Krakauer to claim, “he now seems capable of making stone tools on a par with the efforts of early humans.” Further reading shows that Kanzi had been taught toolmaking skills by trainers, including how to knap flint flakes for cutting. His bonobo companion did not learn as well. Krakauer was astonished at the resemblance of Kanzi’s handwork to “early hominid tools.” Only at the end of the article did she fess up that the headline might be overblown:
Do Kanzi’s skills translate to all bonobos? It’s hard to say. The abilities of animals like Alex the parrot, who could purportedly count to six, and Betty the crow, who crafted a hook out of wire, sometimes prompt claims about the intelligence of an entire species. But since these animals are raised in unusual environments where they frequently interact with humans, their cases may be too singular to extrapolate their talents to their brethren….
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