When We Talk About Animals: Sue Savage-Rumbaugh

Sue Savage-Rumbaugh on speaking with bonobos, humanity’s closest living relatives

Dialogues on the Human Ape (Laurent Dubreuil and Sue Savage-Rumbaugh)Listen to the podcast here.

If you travel to Des Moines, Iowa and drive about 20 minutes southeast of the city center, you’ll find a large, unassuming cement complex with fenced in grounds. You’d never know it, but inside are five bonobos — including the world-famous 38-year-old Kanzi — thought to be the only remaining nonhuman apes capable of communicating verbally with humans. Not only have the bonobos in Iowa been shown to understand thousands of English words, but they are also capable of expressing wishes, plans, and opinions by pointing to pictograms developed by our guest, Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, as part of her extraordinarily ambitious thirty-year investigation into their minds. (Bonobos are humanity’s closest living relatives — an egalitarian, matriarchal cousin of the chimp, sometimes called the “make love, not war” ape.) The investigation has been polarizing among researchers who study language in recent years.


Our guest, Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, is a primatologist who has received global recognition for her contributions to the field of animal cognition and psychology. She is the author or co-author of over 180 scientific articles and of eight books, including Kanzi: The Ape at the Brink of the Human Mind and the forthcoming Dialogues on the Human Ape with Laurent Dubreuil. Her numerous awards include honorary doctorates from the University of Chicago and Missouri State University, recognition from TIME magazine as one of the world’s 100 most influential people in 2011, and selection by the Millennium Project as the author of one of the 100 most influential works in cognitive science in the 20th century. She currently teaches at Missouri State University and serves as president of the Bonobo Hope Initiative. 


Listen to the podcast here.

Published in: When We Talk About Animals