Excerpt from Animal Wise by Virginia Morell, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Animal Wise

The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures

by Virginia Morell

Animal Wise by Virginia Morell X
Animal Wise by Virginia Morell
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2013, 304 pages
    Mar 2014, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Christian Tubau

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Print Excerpt

Although wonderful to watch, none of these were surprising chimpanzee behaviors. Goodall had thoroughly documented and reported them all. What I didn't expect to witness—just as I hadn't anticipated Frodo's decision to involve me in his social ambitions—was one chimpanzee deceiving another.

Goodall had gone to the "station," a small shed at Gombe, where she had long provided bananas to the chimpanzees to accustom (or habituate) them to people. She handed the fruit to the chimps through a barred window. One afternoon, I watched the proceedings from an adjacent building.

Beethoven, a big male with glossy black fur, was the fi rst visitor. With him was a young female chimpanzee, Dilly, whose mother had disappeared when Dilly was a toddler, leaving her an orphan. As a rule, chimpanzees are raised by their mother, and any orphaned youngsters are cared for by one of their sisters or aunts. But in this case, it was the male, Beethoven, who'd adopted Dilly, Goodall told me later.* Beethoven was both Dilly's benefactor, seeing to it that she had enough to eat from the fruiting trees, and her protector, keeping her safe during any of the group's altercations. But Beethoven's generosity did not extend to sharing bananas.

* In 1999, genetic tests showed that Beethoven was Dilly's father, which suggests that the male chimpanzees somehow do recognize their offspring.

Goodall handed Beethoven an armful of the fruits, and he squatted on the grasses in front of the shed and with relish devoured each one. Little Dilly sat close by, watching as each luscious banana slipped down her protector's gullet. Once she reached out a hand to beg, but Beethoven ignored her. Finally, the last banana consumed and his belly full, Beethoven rolled on his back and fell asleep. Dilly sat beside him, grooming his fur.

Goodall had watched the little drama from her window. Unbeknownst to Beethoven, she had held back one banana. When Dilly happened to glance at her, Goodall held up the prized fruit. Normally, a hungry chimpanzee would make a food cry after spotting such a delectable treat. Dilly stifled any sound. She watched as Goodall placed the banana outside the feeding station, away from Beethoven's line of sight. It was as if she and Goodall had exchanged a secret, and like a coconspirator Dilly played her part. She continued grooming the big male, while making cooing, lullaby sounds of contentment.

At last Beethoven began to snore—and Dilly quickly and quietly made her way to the hidden banana. She downed it in three bites. Then she stealthily made her way back to Beethoven's side and resumed her grooming and cooing.

When Goodall and I met up a bit later, I immediately brought up Dilly's behavior.

"What a wonderful demonstration of how chimpanzees can lie and be deceitful!" I said. "Are you going to write that up for a science journal?"

"I can't," Goodall replied.

"But why not?" I asked. Dilly's actions had been so clearly deceptive; she had even connived with Goodall to fool Beethoven. How else could one explain that sequence of events?

Goodall said calmly, "No. Other scientists will say this is only an anecdote and that there is no way to know what Dilly was thinking. If I write it up, everyone will say, 'Oh, Jane, how silly of you. That's anthropomorphizing.'"

She would be attributing a human mental ability to an animal—just as I had done when I told friends about my dog's imagination. But there was a big difference: she was Jane Goodall, an eminent scientist and expert on chimpanzee behavior. If she reported Dilly's deception, I protested, surely other researchers would listen. Goodall and other chimpanzee watchers, such as Frans de Waal, who had written extensively about the chimpanzees' political machinations, had already established that these apes shared many of the attributes and abilities of humans. The chimpanzees were so similar to us, especially in their expressions and gestures, that at the end of each day, after returning to the guesthouse, I often referred to them as "people" when telling other tourists all that I'd seen.

Excerpted from Animal Wise by Virginia Morell. Copyright © 2013 by Virginia Morell. Excerpted by permission of Crown. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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