It appears that we humans aren’t the only ones who gesture wildly with our arms when we “talk,” or use a wide combination of ways to get the attention of someone else.
Researchers studied the interactions and communications among five of the chimpanzees at Central Washington University’s Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute, and found that they used a unique mixture of vocalizations, pokes, prods, arm waving to communicate with others, including humans. They even learned American Sign Language (ASL).
As published in the journal Animal Cognition, Mary Lee Abshire Jensvold, Maureen McCarthy and Deborah Fouts found that the chimpanzees would increase and alter their communication methods based on the attention they were receiving. Like a child seeking the attention of a parent whose concentration is momentarily elsewhere, the chimpanzees would intensify their vocalizations and resort to poking, prodding and even foot stomping if researchers did not hear them.
Dr. Jensvold recounted how Dar repeatedly sought the attention of another chimpanzee named Loulis.
“Dar open palm slapped, a tactile gesture, on Loulis. Loulis didn’t respond. Dar then used a different gesture, the foot stomp, an auditory gesture, which makes noise. Loulis responded to that gesture. This shows a persistence in communication.”
The chimpanzees also showed the extraordinary ability to incorporate ASL into their communication repertoire. Of the five chimpanzees researchers studied (males Dar and Loulis, and females Washoe, Moja and Tatu), four “were raised in an environment like that of a deaf human child and acquired signs of ASL (American Sign Language) in this environment.” However, Loulis, whom researchers did not teach ASL, learned by copying the other chimpanzees.
Sadly, Dar and Washoe, two of the five chimpanzees who were involved in this study, are now deceased. Both Dar and Washoe’s unnatural lives and untimely deaths are yet another poignant reminder that chimpanzees are individuals with rights and interests of their own who do not belong in captivity.