Archive for May 14, 2012

By Jennifer Viegas

Santino, a male chimp at a Swedish zoo, plays it cool before launching his surprise attacks on human visitors

“Santino,” a male chimpanzee at Furuvik Zoo in Sweden, is devising increasingly complex attacks against zoo visitors.

At first Santino was famous for throwing rocks and other projectiles at visitors who annoyed him. Now he has improved his technique, which requires spontaneous innovation for future deception. Researcher Mathias Osvath, lead author of a paper about Santino in PLoS ONE, explained what the clever chimp did:

“After a visitor group had left the compound area, Santino went inside the enclosure and brought a good-sized heap of hay that he placed near the visitor’s section, and immediately after that he put stones under it,” Osvath said.

“He also appeared to have placed projectiles behind, just before he went in after the hay. After this, he sat down beside the hay and waited. When the visitors came back, he waited until they were close by and, without any preceding display, he threw stones at the crowd.”

Santino calmly collected and fashioned missiles to hurl at zoo visitors

Osvath, who is the scientific director of the Lund University Primate Research Station Furuvik, and colleague Elin Karvonen noticed the behavior while studying the elderly chimp, who is the dominant male in his exhibit at the Swedish zoo.

The calculated surprise attacks on visitors demonstrate very advanced thinking usually only associated with humans.

Osvath said, “What is interesting is that he made these preparations when the visitors were out of sight, and also that he incorporated innovations into the behavior.”

“What makes this a bit special is that he actually had not experienced before what he seemed to anticipate,” Osvath added. “He, in a sense, produced a future outcome instead of just preparing for a scenario that had previously been re-occurring reliably.”

The researchers believe that the recombination of previous experiences coupled with innovation “is a good sign of the rather sophisticated foresight abilities in chimps.”

Santino has started a war with nosy tourists.

This comes very close to what is known as “theory of mind,” which is the ability to attribute mental states to oneself and others, and to understand that others have thoughts, desires and more that are different from one’s own. Empathy, deception (as for Santino) and other qualities usually only reserved for humans can be linked to this process.

In terms of why the chimp wants to bother human zoo visitors, Osvath said that’s nothing new.

“A lot of great apes, especially dominant males, throw stuff at people at zoos,” he said. “And I would think that this is something that comes naturally to them when performing their dominance displays. These are often aimed at making other apes move out of the way and, in effect, accept him as the boss.”

“Humans at zoos don’t move out of the way, unless they get thrown at,” he continued. “Some apes throw sticks or feces, but Santino doesn’t have access to any good-sized sticks, and he really dislikes putting his fingers on gooey stuff, including feces.”

After observing the chimp for days, the scientists also suspect that Santino just also “finds it fun” to bug humans. He even appears to target certain people that perhaps really get on his nerves. The attacks are all the more successful because Santino plays it cool, holding back on posturing before whipping out the stone or other projectile.

Some of the stones which Santino the chimp used.

Michael Huffman of Kyoto University’s Primate Research Institute has also studied chimp stone throwing, which he believes “may serve to augment the effect of intimidation displays.” He further thinks that research on the behavior could shed light on the evolution of stone tool use in humans.

Osvath additionally believes that the phenomenon taps into “one of the hardest questions in science: how matter (in this case the brain) can appear to be influenced by something that does not exist (the future). This is far from trivial.”

by Steven Best

“Mankind’s true moral test … consists of its attitude toward those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect mankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it.” Milan Kundera

The complexity of historical and social dynamics can only be adequately grasped from a plurality of perspectives. These include critical approaches such as Marxism, feminism, and critical race/postcolonial studies, and environmental determinism. To determinants such as class, gender, race, and geography and climate we must also add the decisive influence of animals on human history — or, rather, human-animal relations and interactions — such as become clear through use of the animal standpoint.

If we look at history from the animal standpoint — that is, from the crucial role that animals have played in human history and the consequences of human domination of nonhuman animals — we can glean new and invaluable insights into psychological, social, historical, and ecological phenomena, problems, and crises. I use the animal standpoint to shed new light on the origins, dynamics, and development of dominator cultures and dysfunctional power systems that structure our relationships to one another, to other species, and to the natural world in hierarchical rather than complimentary terms.

Animal standpoint theory looks at the crucial role animals play in sustaining the natural world and shaping the human world in co-evolutionary relations with human beings. While animals have played a crucial positive role in shaping human psychology and social life, they have not always been willing partners.  A main thesis of animal standpoint theory is that animals have been key shaping forces of human psychology, social life, and history overall, and that in fundamental ways, the domination of humans over animals underpins the domination of humans over one another and of humans over nature.

This approach stresses the systemic consequences of human exploitation of animals, the interrelatedness of our fates, and the profound need for revolutionary changes in the way human beings define themselves and relate to other species and the earth. While useful results have come from the arid scholastic field of “animal studies,” I am not interested in the sterile theory-for-theory’s-sake approach, but rather in mining new histories and theories for their practical implications that can revolutionize human existence. Unlike the largely apolitical field of “human-animal studies,” the animal standpoint is no more “neutral” or “objective” in relation to animals than Marx’s work was toward the working class or the Frankfurt School’s critical theory was to oppressed and suffering peoples. It is an ethically and politically engaged viewpoint that condemns the exploitation and slaughter of animals, and promotes the total emancipation of animals from all forms of human enslavement and domination, which demands revolutionizing  capitalism and dismantling, hierarchical societies, and dominator cultures. The animal standpoint is vital to a total liberation politics that promotes human, animal, and earth liberation as inseparably related struggles that need to unite against common enemies such as capitalism and the state. It advocates an alliance politics in which different radical movements work together toward the positive goal of shifting the dominant paradigms from hierarchy to equality, from growth to sustainability, from alienation to harmony, and from violence to peace.

This essay explores the animal standpoint in three different dimensions: (1) for the light it sheds on historical dynamics, the origin and development of dominator cultures, and current global, social, and ecological crises; (2) for its power to undermine speciesism, advance egalitarian arguments and liberation ethics, and debunk persistent myths in the inherent goodness of human nature; and (3) for its ability to expose the speciesist logic of pacifism and validate militant direct action tactics in defense of animals and the earth.[1]

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