DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A research facility in Des Moines wants to bring more bonobos to the area in hopes of breeding the apes and learning more about their abilities and behaviors.
The Ape Cognition & Conservation Initiative has applied for accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, The Des Moines Register reported . Accreditation would give the nonprofit permission to breed with other captive bonobos in the U.S.
The initiative’s goal is to learn more about human evolution through studying bonobos. Bonobos are the closest genetic relative to humans, according to researchers.
“They share a lot of characteristics with us,” said Jared Taglialatela, director of the initiative. “We’re comparing what we can do with what our closest evolutionary relatives can do, so we can draw some parallels on what the ancestors looked like and what set humans on this path where we can talk on cell phones and read newspapers and use tools.”
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Bonobos can communicate with hand gestures, vocalization and a lexigram keyboard, a grid with more than 500 symbols representing words such as go, sleep and grape.
Kanzi is a 37-year-old bonobo who understands about 3,000 words. Researchers in 1993 compared his English comprehension to that of a 3-year-old human child. Researchers now hope to follow up on the 25-year-old study of Kanzi’s language comprehension.
“We’re trying to follow up that work with other apes,” Taglialatela said. “But we also want to know, was it Kanzi’s exposure to human language that did this, or are we tapping into something that bonobos can already do?”
The nonprofit hopes to hear back on its application next year.
There are fewer than 100 bonobos living in captivity in the country. Philanthropist Ted Townsend brought five to Des Moines in 2004 through the initiative, then called the Great Ape Trust. The trust folded after funding struggles and was replaced in 2013 by the Ape Cognition & Conservation Initiative.
Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com