Animal Inventory Blog

Keeping track of animals in popular culture.

Chimp Stones Visitors at Zoo — by Guest Blogger Katie McCabe

Posted by lisagbrown on March 10, 2009

I’m pleased to introduce a new Animal Inventory guest blogger.  Katie McCabe has worked with marine animals for the past seven years, and has experience in marine mammal behavior, training, rescue, and rehabilitation, as well as educational outreach. She also examines the ethics and policies surrounding human relationships with other animals. She has a Master’s in Science from Tufts University’s Center for Animals and Public Policy.


Chimp Stones Visitors at Zoo — by Katie McCabe

Over the past couple of days, there have been several reports from various news outlets about a chimpanzee named Santino in a Swedish zoo who is known to throw rocks at zoo guests.

Santino gathers the stones in the morning before the zoo is opened (presumably in an un-agitated state) and collects them in a pile. Throughout the day he adds to this stockpile by chipping away at some of the concrete in his enclosure to create more objects he can throw. When zoo visitors arrive in the afternoon, Santino becomes “agitated” and begins throwing rocks towards them. Santino only throws these rocks during the summer when visitors are present at the zoo.

All of the accounts I have read about this focus on the idea that this situation presents new, and possibly the first concrete, evidence that animals other than humans demonstrate planning and forethought.

Personally, I have never questioned that chimpanzees are quite intelligent and have the capacity both to strategically plan and to later implement these plans. What I have questioned, however, are the ethics surrounding keeping such an intelligent animal captive in a zoo environment. In addition to being evidence of advanced intelligence, doesn’t this say something about a chimpanzee’s experience in a zoo environment – or, at the very least, about Santino’s experience in the Swedish zoo?

Santino has been engaging in this behavior for ten years. Maybe in the midst of all of this research, someone should hypothesize about what Santino might be communicating through this behavior. I sincerely doubt his primary goal was to demonstrate to humans that he is capable of forethought and planning.

Oh, and anyone concerned about the welfare of the humans in this situation should rest assured because the zoo officials maintain that chimpanzees don’t have very good aim.

For more information, read Discover Magazine’s article, “Chimp Gathers Stones for ‘Premeditated Attacks on Zoo Visitors.”

(Katie McCabe)

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