Monkey using matches is a sign of evolution. Everything you know, you didn’t just know. You had to learn it. It wasn’t one day nobody knows how to make fire, next day everyone just knows. The fact that their comprehension is growing is a form of evolution. He’s just had to sit through his offspring’s fourth birthday party, with the youngster tearing open his presents and jumping all over daddy’s head in his excitement. So I can understand the expression of weariness on Kanzi’s face when I ask him what he wants for lunch.
He has learned to ‘say’ about 500 words through the keyboard and understands about 3,000 of them. Equally importantly, he was the first primate who didn’t acquire language through direct training.
Instead, much like a human child, he picked it up simply by listening as researchers tried to teach his foster mother. (Teco is now doing the same by watching his father.)
Through a mixture of observation and encouragement, Kanzi has also picked up an astonishing set of manual skills.
He can cook, make knives out of stone and play the arcade game Pac-Man (he can get past the first round — a feat beyond many humans). He and his similarly talented late sister, Panbanisha, once even jammed with British rock star Peter Gabriel, playing along on a keyboard as the former Genesis man played a synthesizer.
The bonobo is a more gentle and intelligent cousin of the chimpanzee. Its only natural homeland is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. Bonobos are our closest animal relative (sharing about 99 per cent of our DNA) and physically resemble our distant ancestors.
Kanzi, now 33, has been fully immersed in the human world, and the English language, since birth. Scientists who have studied Kanzi all his life say he possesses a vocabulary big enough to follow and contribute to simple conversations.