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April 7th, 2009
In the News: Primate Planning

Over the course of our travels, several experts suggested our ability to mentally time travel to past happenings and future possibilities as one candidate for a uniquely human talent. Now a chimp named Santino at a Swedish zoo seems to be forcing a more nuanced picture of what types of anticipation and planning our closest relatives are capable of.

Santino gets riled up when his enclosure is swamped with human onlookers. So he takes matters into his own hands and hurls stones out at the crowds. But what’s intriguing is that he stockpiles rocks in the morning when he is calm and no visitors are peering in at him. He appears to be anticipating their arrival later in the day and his likely-to-result agitated emotional state. So he serenely builds caches of weapons for use later on.

Of course, our human talents didn’t just jump into existence out of thin air. It’s to be expected that foundations for our abilities can be found in other animals. Santino offers an interesting case study… and a reminder that just because we haven’t spotted a particular ability in other species, or figured out an adequate experiment to address the question, doesn’t mean it’s not there in some form.


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