The not-so-curious case of Santino the chimpanzee.

March 13th, 2009 9:14 am by Kelly Garbato

null

Santino the chimp with a stone in his hand. Photograph: PA

Many of you have no doubt already heard the story of Santino, a chimpanzee being held captive in a Swedish zoo who, in gathering rocks to throw at visitors to the zoo/prison, evidenced abstract thinking and planning for the future.

STOCKHOLM (AP) – A canny chimpanzee who calmly collected a stash of rocks and then hurled them at zoo visitors in fits of rage has confirmed that apes can plan ahead just like humans, a Swedish study said Monday. Santino the chimpanzee’s anti-social behavior stunned both visitors and keepers at the Furuvik Zoo but fascinated researchers because it was so carefully prepared.

According to a report in the journal Current Biology, the 31-year-old alpha male started building his weapons cache in the morning before the zoo opened, collecting rocks and knocking out disks from concrete boulders inside his enclosure. He waited until around midday before he unleashed a “hailstorm” of rocks against visitors, the study said.

“These observations convincingly show that our fellow apes do consider the future in a very complex way,” said the author of the report, Lund University Ph.D. student Mathias Osvath. “It implies that they have a highly developed consciousness, including lifelike mental simulations of potential events.” […]

Osvath said the chimpanzee had also been observed tapping on concrete boulders in the park to identify weak parts and then knocking out a piece. If it was too big for throwing, he broke it into smaller pieces, before adding them to his arsenal.

“It is very special that he first realizes that he can make these and then plans on how to use them,” Osvath said. “This is more complex than what has been showed before.” […]

For a while, zoo keepers tried locking Santino up in the morning so he couldn’t collect ammunition for his assaults, but he remained aggressive. They ultimately decided to castrate him in the autumn last year, but will have to wait until the summer to see if that helps. The chimpanzees are only kept outdoors between April and October and Santino’s special behavior usually occurs in June and July.

“It is normal behavior for alpha males to want to influence their surroundings … It is extremely frustrating for him that there are people out of his reach who are pointing at him and laughing,” Osvath said. “It cannot be good to be so furious all the time.”

I’ll try to not rehash what others have said, but if I may, a few points:

I’ve noticed that a disturbing number of news articles refer to Santino as “belligerent,” “anti-social,” and the like. His behavior is characterized as unreasonably antagonistic and hostile, as if it’s wholly unprovoked. On the contrary; Santino’s actions are defensive, not offensive. How would you respond if, day in and day out, naked apes invaded your space, gawked, laughed and pointed at you, and occasionally even assaulted your person, both verbally and physically? (Anyone who’s taken even the occasional trip to a zoo has witnessed humans – adults and children alike – harass the animals, usually with words and noises, but also with improvised weapons.) Probably you wouldn’t like it. Probably you’d become fed up and eventually lash out. Santino is 31 years old; though I’ve no clue how long he’s been held captive in a zoo, probably it’s been years – possibly, decades. How would you handle 31 years of captivity and slow torture?

In regards to the zoo keepers’ efforts to control Santino’s “belligerent” behavior by castrating the poor bloke, I say this: isn’t the obvious answer to remove him from the gorram display? That’s the real issue at play here, not his aggression or excessive levels of testosterone.

And also: humans often invoke our superior intellect – whether this is defined as a sense of self, ability to plan for the future, ability to craft and use tools, what have you – as an ethical justification for our exploitation and enslavement of non-human animals. So what do we do when a non-human animal exhibits human-like intelligence? Why, we (try to) castrate it out of him, of course! Can’t have a dirty, filthy ape acting like a person now, can we? Oh, the irony.

I can only hope that Brother Kwan – another forward-thinking primate – escaped his captors after his own attempt at freedom. Brother, described only as “a monkey,” killed his abusive owner by throwing a coconut at the man’s head. Slave owner Leilit Janchoom died instantly.

Perchance Brother Kawn will make an appearance on a future segment of TCR’s “Monkey on the Lam“?

——————–

Tagged:

Be Sociable, Share!

Filed under , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply