Wyatt HilyardM. ScogginANTH 410April 25, 2013Fantasy Project Proposal – Cognitive and Communicative Ability in BonobosMy proposal is a research project on the capacity for the great apes to communicate withhumans. I would like to do my research at the Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary, formerly knownas the Great Ape Trust. Their facility provides several already well-educated bonobo individualsof varying ages, and adequate communication and testing equipment. I believe, while theacademic world knows much more about primate cognition and ability to communicate withhumans than it did ten years ago, there are still areas of research to further explore.The individuals at the research facility in Iowa, especially Kanzi and Teco, are perfectsubjects for further testing, as they already have already been educated to have an impressiveability for communication. At almost three years of age, Teco is a very interesting case due to thefact that he has been brought up, since birth, in an environment that encourages human languagecomprehension and communication. His father, Kanzi, was nine months old when the foundersof the research site started working with him. Over the years, they developed and honed theirown approach and tools for teaching, which are now available to Teco. This improvedmethodology of the program gives him the possibility of even deeper ape-human communicationskills. It is possible that, over the years, he will show us higher levels of inter-speciescommunication that Kanzis case was not able to demonstrate.I want to be part of this research. I believe this kind of research is important to understandmore about our own evolution and potential for neurological processes, as well as the cognitive
capabilities of bonobos as their own species.The current project leaders have a good understanding of their subjects cognitive ability,but an independent test would be a good idea prior to new research. I would administer Hermannand Calls Primate Cognition Test Battery (PCTB) to the six individuals at the Iowa facility. Thesame test would be administered to a similar age/gender spread of humans, for comparison. Iwould then have both groups perform various new tasks that stretch their ability for problemsolving and communication. The tasks would mostly be more difficult variations of those in thePCTB. Additional tests of receptive understanding of spoken English would be performed aswell.The use of this research would depend on the results. If it is found that bonobos arecapable of more than we previously thought, the new tests would give us new insight into theirabilities. Inferences might also be made as to our own evolution as Homo sapiens, and theevolutionary changes that occurred after the split from the last common ancestor with thebonobos. Further research could be done with populations of other great apes in order to obtain alarger, interspecies view. However, the unique nature of the Iowa bonobo research site and itssubjects is a large part of its inclusion in this project, and adjustments would have to be made forother populations.