Elephants caring for a crippled herd member seem to show empathy. A funeral ritual performed by magpies suggests grief. Then thereʼs the excited dance chimps perform when faced with a waterfall – it looks distinctly awe-inspired.
In June 2006, Jane Goodall and I visited the Mona Chimpanzee Sanctuary near Girona in Spain. There we met Marco, a rescued chimp, who dances during thunderstorms with such abandon that he appears to be in a trance. Goodall and others have witnessed chimps, usually adult males, perform a similar ritual at waterfalls. She described a chimpanzee approaching one of these falls with slightly bristled hair, a sign of heightened arousal. “As he gets closer, and the roar of the falling water gets louder, his pace quickens, his hair becomes fully erect, and upon reaching the stream he may perform a magnificent display close to the foot of the falls,” she describes. “Standing upright, he sways rhythmically from foot to foot, stamping in the shallow, rushing water, picking up and hurling great rocks. Sometimes he climbs up the slender vines that hang down from the trees high above and swings out into the spray of the falling water. This ‘waterfall dance’ may last 10 or 15 minutes.”
Perhaps numerous animals engage in similar rituals but we havenʼt been lucky enough to see them. Is it possible that they are marveling at their surroundings - that they feel a sense of awe? “Do Animals Have Emotions?” New Scientist magazine, 23 May 2007
“A chimpanzee comes to a stunning sight in the midst of a tropical forest: A twenty-five foot waterfall sends water thundering into a pool below, which casts up mist some seventy feet. Apparently lost in contemplation, the chimpanzee cries out, runs excitedly back and forth, and drums on trees with its fists. Here we see the dawn of awe and wonder in animals.
“Famed heart surgeon, Dr. Christian Bernard, witnessed a chimpanzee weeping bitterly and becoming inconsolable for days after his companion was taken away for research. Bernard then vowed never again to experiment with such sensitive creatures.”
A. J. Mattill, Jr., The Seven Mighty Blows To Traditional Beliefs
“When Washoe [the chimpanzee] was about seven or eight years old, I witnessed an event that told about Washoe as a person, as well as causing me to reflect on human nature. [The account proceeds to describe the chimp island at the Institute for Primate Studies]…One day a young female by the name of Cindy could not resist the temptation of the mainland and jumped over the electric fence in an attempt to leap the moat. She hit the water with a great splash which caught my attention. I started running toward the moat intent on diving in to save her. [Chimps cannot swim.] As I approached I saw Washoe running toward the electric fence. Cindy had come to the surface, thrashing and submerging again. Then I witnessed Washoe jumping the electric fence and landing next to the fence on about a foot of bank. She then held on to the long grass at the waterʼs edge and stepped out onto the slippery mud underneath the waterʼs surface. With the reach of her long arm, she grasped one of Cindyʼs flailing arms as she resurfaced and pulled her to the safety of the bank…Washoeʼs act gave me a new perspective on chimpanzees. I was impressed with her heroism in risking her life on the slippery banks. She cared about someone in trouble; someone she didnʼt even know that well.”
Roger Fouts, “Friends Of Washoe” Newsletter
Gorilla Talk — “Koko the gorilla has learned the hand signs to over 600 words, and uses them regularly and spontaneously to communicate with others (including another gorilla she lives with, Michael). She also invents her own unique signs. A ring is called a ‘finger bracelet.’ A cigarette lighter is a ‘bottle match.’ Hand signs in Kokoʼs repertoire of abstractions include: bad, imagine, understand, curious, idea, gentle, stupid, boring, and damn. She also understands over a thousand spoken English words and short sentences. She recognizes words that end with similar sounds or start with the same letter, and can ‘talk’ via an auditory keyboard which produces spoken words when appropriate keys are pressed.
“When Koko was 3 1/2 to 4 years old she took several I.Q. tests designed for human children. In her case the tests were administered via sign language, and Kokoʼs scores on three separate tests over a one year period were 84, 95, 85 (which is not an uncommon fluctuation among human children). The scoring even took into account the cultural bias that favored the responses of human children, which was built into the tests, and without which Kokoʼs scores would have been higher. For instance, one question in the test was ‘Point to the two things that are good to eat.’ The depicted objects were a block, an apple, a shoe, a flower, and an ice-cream sundae. Koko, with her gorilla tastes, picked, ‘apple and flower.’ Another asked ‘Where you would run to shelter from the rain.’ The choices were a hat, a spoon, a tree, and a house. Koko picked ‘tree’ instead of ‘house.’ Rules for the scoring required that Kokoʼs responses be recorded as ‘wrong.’
“Koko ‘purrs’ and makes laughing and chuckling sounds to express happiness. Her laugh is a sort of voiceless human guffaw which she expresses at her own jokes and those made by others. She finds incongruity funny, the way a young child might. Asked ‘whatʼs funny,’ she put a toy key on her head and said it was a hat, pointed to a puppetʼs nose and said it was a mouth, and signed, ‘That red,’ showing me a green plastic frog.
“Barbara Hiller saw Koko signing, ‘That red,’ as she built a nest out of a white towel. Barbara said, ‘You know better, Koko. What color is it?’ Koko insisted that it was red — ‘red, Red, RED” and finally held up a minute speck of red lint that had been clinging to the towel. Koko was grinning.
“Another time, after persistent efforts on Barbaraʼs part to get Koko to sign, ‘Drink,’ Koko just leaned back and executed a perfect drink sign — in her ear. Again she was grinning.
“She even tells lies, once blaming a broken sink on a human volunteer. Another time, while I [Patterson] was busy writing, Koko snatched up a red crayon and began chewing on it. A moment later I noticed and said, ‘Youʼre not eating that crayon, are you?’ Koko signed, ‘Lip,’ and began moving the crayon first across her upper, then her lower lip as if applying lipstick.
“Koko also cries, a sort of heart- rending wooo-wooo, when sheʼs sad [like when her pet kitten, ‘All Ball’ died], or when sheʼs lonesome. And sheʼs thought about where gorillas go when they die: ‘Comfortable hole bye.’
“When one of Kokoʼs visitors asked her, ‘Are you an animal or a person?’ Koko answered, ‘Fine animal gorilla.’”
The Above Quotations Have Been Condensed And Edited From “Conversations With a Gorilla” by Francine Patterson (National Geographic, Oct. 1978); “‘Fear, Humor, Commitment, Sorrow’ — Apes Feel Them All” (U.S. News and World Report, July 22, 1985); “Talk to the Animals” by Don Kaplan (Instructor, Aug. 1985); “Sex and the Single Gorilla” by Judith Stone (Discover, Aug. 1988); One of the most careful and thoughtful reports on primate communication is “Language Comprehension in Ape and Child,” ed., E. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, Number 23 (1993). Savage-Rumbaughʼs work is based on rigorous tests and does not rely on anecdotal evidence, yet it supports some of the same claims made above.
“Apes and monkeys have drawn and painted pictures, displaying intense concentration, and appearing to gain satisfaction in the process. Artistically, a chimpanzee makes the same progress, by the same steps, as a human child does, though none have ever been known to get beyond the ‘simple circle dotted with marks resembling facial features,’ i.e., they do not add arms, legs, a body, etc. Still, ape and monkey art takes a lead ahead of children in placing its forms in the center of the page — they balance their compositions. Apes have also been seen tracing their shadows with their finger, and even using their breath to wet a window pane so they could draw upon it. One famous monkey artist, a Capuchin, began to draw with rough objects in her cage even before anyone showed her how. With most other monkeys and chimps all that human trainers had to do was put a pencil in their hand and paper in front of them. They discovered how to use it soon enough, and even how to hold the writing implement properly. The primates that were tested also knew when their pictures were finished, and enjoyed looking at them afterwards…
“Wild chimpanzees have been observed dancing round an object, employing unique modes of rhythm. They also make drinking cups out of folded leaves, and they pluck a stick clean of leaves to make a feeding-tool they use to extract ants and termites from holes in the ground or wood.”
Sally Carrighar, Wild Heritage [quotations have been condensed and edited]
“Forgiveness is not, as some people seem to believe, a mysterious and sublime idea that we owe to a few millennia of Judeo-Christianity. It did not originate in the minds of people and cannot therefore be appropriated by an ideology or a religion. The fact that monkeys, apes, and humans all engage in reconciliation behavior (stretching out a hand, smiling, kissing, embracing, and so on) means that it is probably over thirty million years old, preceding the evolutionary divergence of these primates…Reconciliation behavior [is thus] a shared heritage of the primate order.
“When social animals are involved… antagonists do more than estimate their chances of winning before they engage in a fight; they also take into account how much they need their opponent. The contested resource often is simply not worth putting a valuable relationship at risk. And if aggression does occur, both parties may hurry to repair the damage. Victory is rarely absolute among interdependent competitors, whether animal or human.”
Frans De Waal, Peacemaking Among Primates (see also, Morton Hunt, The Compassionate Beast: What Science is Discovering About the Humane Side of Humankind; and, Alfie Kohn, The Brighter Side of Human Nature: Altruism and Empathy in Everyday Life)
“Studies of food sharing by chimps at Atlantaʼs Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center [show that]…chimps most often get food from individuals whom they have groomed that day. Dominant males are among the most generous with their food. Fights occur rarely and usually stem from attempts either to take food without having performed grooming services or to withhold food after receiving grooming. Chimps usually kiss, hug, or otherwise make peace after a fight, especially if they need help and cooperation from one another in the future, according to Dr. Frans de Waal.”
“Chimps Reap What They Groom,” Science News, Vol. 146, Dec. 17, 1994
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