If you’ve ever seen apes hanging out at the zoo, then you’ve probably been amazed that those tree-climbing, poop-flinging primates are the closest genealogical relative to humans.
And then you hear about the bonobo named Kanzi. He’s lived at the Ape Cognition and Conservation Initiative in Des Moines, Iowa, since birth, and amazingly, he’s developed the skills worthy of a badge-toting Boy Scout.
Just wait until you see what this dude can do…
When you watch their huge, hulking forms swing from tree branch to tree branch in between intermittent bouts of bug-picking, it can be hard to believe that apes are so closely related to humans on a genealogical level. Until you meet bonobos like Kanzi, that is…
Kanzi has lived in Des Moines, Iowa’s Ape Cognition and Conservation Initiative since birth—he’s 35 years old, by the way. The initiative develops and accomplishes projects to help great apes all over the world, but in the meantime, they work with Kanzi on some behavioral lessons. In other words, they try and teach Kanzi to do things like a human would.
The organization’s work with Kanzi has been nothing short of spectacular. Now, he has all the makings of a world class Boy Scout! He can gather kindling, coax a flame, and roast a marshmallow so easily it might make you burn with envy. Somehow, though, that isn’t even his most impressive talent…
But first, how did Kanzi take his first steps towards the metaphorical cooking merit badge? According to Dr. Savage-Rumbaugh of ACCI, Kanzi “used to watch the film Quest For Fire when he was very young, which was about early man struggling to control fire. He watched it spellbound over and over hundreds of times.”
And now, “Kanzi makes fire because he wants to,” Dr. Savage-Rumbaugh said. Hopefully they won’t be dealing with a future arsonist at the initiative! Thus far, Kanzi just likes cooking marshmallows—though cameras have also spied him roasting hamburgers in a pan.
When Kanzi is all done with the fire—and after he’s eaten his ‘mallows—he even knows to pour some water on the flame until it’s extinguished. That’s enough to make Smokey the Bear shed a single, prideful tear. Still, Kanzi has another talent, one that far exceeds his penchant for fire safety and inhaling roasted marshmallows.
When Kanzi was a baby bonobo—a bonoboo, if you will—ape psychologists tried to teach his mother to use a keyboard. Unfortunately, they failed miserably. What they had succeeded in, however, was speaking loudly and clearly enough so that little Kanzi—who was always nearby, probably watching Quest for Fire—could overhear and pick up the lessons himself.
Now Kanzi understands enough English words to fill a tiny dictionary (about 3,000) and can point to symbols that communicate back to humans. He can’t talk, but he can take directions better than even most well-behaved children…
To prove it, in one popular YouTube video, Kanzi sat with an instructor who wore a mask over her face so he couldn’t just read her lips. The instructor said, “Kanzi, could you cut the onions with your knife?” and he did! Well, he did his best, anyway.
When you check out the video below, you’ll see Kanzi the bonobo doing what he does best: gathering sticks, lighting a match, and roasting some hot-and-gooey marshmallows. He’d make for one awesome companion on your next camping trip—that’s for sure!
The next time you see an ape at the zoo staring longingly into the sun, remember ol’ Kanzi. With the right training, those awesome creatures could be doing just about anything!
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