Category Archives: apes

High Functioning Simians: Calculus Anyone?

Metacognition Study

I don’t know that I’m not smart enough to understand all the implications of these rigorous experimental studies of ape cognition. Metacognition research is supposed to elucidate how higher vertebrates understand, control, and manipulate their own cognitive processes. At the same time it begs the question if the readership demographic most suited to utilize the information finds the study palatable and transferable. I know that it took me some time to process, and probably some time for others who are not always current on scholarly work in this particular area. And some might suggest that anecdotal information has already confirmed this as far as some are concerned.

When I worked with greater and lesser apes as a keeper (all but bonobos), I was more interested in the anecdotal data that I could relate to- information that could help me enhance enrichment programs for animals displayed for public education in the confines of a zoological park, and not in the context of highly controlled laboratory studies. By no means do I dismiss the importance of these studies, as they contribute to document our knowledge of “executive functioning” in animals and teach us much about their potential to interact with con-specifics and their captive environment.

With that said, I relied on my supervisors credentialed or not, with years of experience working with great apes everyday to learn how apes think. Whose to say what is more appropriate or not.  Perhaps we should defer to a combination of resources. With the exception of Gordon Gallup’s work, I don’t know if I would perform as well as the apes do in these studies, much less understand it’s significance. I’m curious as to how this science trickles down to those who are in a position to ultimately apply what was learned for the benefit of the animals. This is not my field and there may be a very clear answer. At the same time it would be selfish to assert that this contribution to science is not of benefit if it is not directly applicable to zoo work. I have not read the original article, but likely their intention is to reach a much broader audience of scholars and behavioral practitioners.

I’ve worked on some unrelated studies that have absolutely no application to animal welfare or health, but at the onset they seemed like there was potential for some practical application. I guess you never know.

Dr. Jordan Schaul, Zoo Keeper Emeritus