Ape Genius: What Separates Apes from Humans? PBS Airdate: February 19, 2008 NARRATOR: Something strange is happening in the forests of Africa. Chimpanzees are doing things no one has seen them do before: they are having pool parties. But that's not all. At a site called Fongoli, in Senegal, they have also invented a remarkable way to catch a meal. They are making spears and hunting, just like our ancestors. Fresh steaks and a swimming pool? How long until they fire up the barbecue? After all, the great apes—chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas, and bonobos—seem so much like us, it's hard not to feel a deep connection. MICHAEL TOMASELLO (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology) : We have come to see that we're much more similar to them than we ever imagined. NARRATOR: But for every revelation about the power of their minds, another shows up a stunning difference. REBECCA SAXE (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) : If you think that human genetics and ape genetics are 99% the same, what we've managed to achieve in our current position on Earth is so strikingly different from that of apes. BRIAN HARE (Duke University) : We're trying to figure out, "What is it that makes us human? What's the little difference that makes the big difference?" NARRATOR: How big is the gap between them and us? What's holding them back? Inside ape minds, right now on this NOVA/National Geographic special. NARRATOR: In a remote part of Africa, there's something new under the sun. Our closest living relatives are getting bold. Chimps are supposed to be afraid of water, but this young male is climbing down for a dip. He keeps a hand on a natural safety line as he overcomes his fear. Has a boy or girl ever had more fun in a swimming hole? Wild chimps have never before been seen playing like this. At Fongoli, Senegal, anthropologist Jill Pruetz and psychologist Andrew Whiten are getting an extraordinary glimpse of chimp emotions. ANDREW WHITEN (University of St. Andrews) : The personality of a chimpanzee is extremely excitable. I've hardly ever seen a facial expression like that. I mean, that was extreme excitement to the stage of kind of losing control. JILL PRUETZ (Iowa State University) : It's not merely just to cool off. The juveniles have fun. I mean, they play in the water. They play a lot in the water. NARRATOR: This is only one of a rush of discoveries that is painting a surprising new portrait of ape minds. They are more like us than most researchers ever imagined.
One by one, the skills and emotions we once thought were uniquely human are being found in apes. Still, certain specific mental gaps—the little differences that make the big difference—will ultimately explain why we study them and not the other way around. While the swimming hole is revealing chimps' emotions in the field, a new laboratory study is showing off their amazing rational powers.
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- Gorilla, Hominidae, Chimpanzee, Bonobo, Ape, Brian Hare, Video Transcript