Thursday, January 14, 2010

Animals behaving humanly, part 2

Perhaps the most presumptuous behavior possible is an animal thinking it can actually replace us in our jobs.

It's bad enough if it's a fairly low paid profession, like the monkeys that wait tables in Japan, or the dog we met in an earler post who worked in a gas station.

Some animals have tried to usurp the place of much more skilled professionals, though. Fortunately, we'll see today and next time, some of them have gotten their comeuppance.

You've probably seen the stories about elephants and other animals painting pictures which are sold for fundraisers for zoos. The latest artistic star in the news is an orangutan at the Vienna Zoo, who's been taking photos, and in an even more up-to-date touch, posting them on a Facebook page. (And yes, with over 81,000 fans, she's more popular than you are.)

The truth is that the ape's motivations have nothing to do with artistic self-expression: the camera is rigged to dispense raisins when she clicks the shutter.

"Of course the apes don't care about the pictures, they are just an accidental side product," a zoo spokesman has been widely quoted as saying, but in case you're not convinced, the esteemed National Geographic took it upon themselves to get to the bottom of the story of this pretentious primate. In an interview, the deputy director of the zoo, Harald Schwammer, said:

The company Samsung came up with the suggestion. It was their idea to advertise their camera! For me as zoologist and curator, it is an enrichment project with some opportunities for behavioral studies. To be clear, the orang does not know that it is making pictures with the camera!

All of the orangs in the group manipulate the instrument and turn a switch. After this switch is turned, a raisin falls out. By turning the switch, the photo is taken. Therefore, the orangutan does not know that this is a camera and that they are making pictures, they are only trying to get a reward from the machine.

It is just like the elephant paintings that are going around the world with false information: elephants are not able to paint a tree or flowers; they are trained for this. There is no creative touch, no artistic approach!

We've seen before on this blog that orangs have a knack for using objects to make trouble,and Schwammer reminds us to be careful what we give an orang to play with:

There was nothing surprising concerning the orangutans' behavior. We knew that they use and manipulate every object they touch. If you give them a machine-gun, they will soon find out how to shoot it.

Photo of one of her suspicious-looking orang comrades - purely accidentally, of course - by Nonja.

1 comment:

  1. One wonders if an orang would shoot the gun more than once. That would be an alarming experience, even assuming it survived unharmed.


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