After the zoo's Elizabeth Lonsdorf, a conference co-organizer, kicked off the meeting by having the participants give each other a "proper chimp greeting," she introduced Kyoto University's Tetsuro Matsuzawa, one of the few researchers who studies both wild and captive chimpanzees. Matsuzawa's talk kept the audience participation level high, eliciting loud "oohs," "ahhs," and guffaws. Matsuzawa described the numerical skills of a chimpanzee named Ai and her son Ayumu, who live at the university's Primate Research Institute in Kyoto. Building on work he first reported in Nature 7 years ago, he showed videos of Ayumu using a touch-screen monitor to select the randomly displayed numbers 0 through 9, in ascending order.Well this is quite amazing. But wait...here's the real kicker:
This is great stuff! (here is a 36-second clip of Ayumu working with numbers)
He then repeatedly performed a more difficult variation on this task, in which the numbers were masked with white blocks shortly after they were flashed on the screen. "No one can do this," he said, proving the point with a hilarious clip of his graduate students failing the exercise with only four masked numbers. "Our common ancestors might have had immediate memory, but in the course of evolution, they lost this and acquired languagelike skills," posited Matsuzawa.
And now to justify this post for science & religion, here is a link to a nice short story by Robert Silverberg called The Pope of the Chimps