Wednesday, October 25, 2006

I Dun It!

Mutterings continued.

Finally worked out which flights will get me to and from Heathrow for 112,000 points! It means flying into London at 6.45am but at least it's Qantas all the way and there's only a 3 hours stop in Singapore. Flying back, however, is with British Airways (rats!) and I arrive at half past midnight. The last couple of times I've flown to the UK, I've landed early in the morning and it's not too bad.

So, I've booked it, paid the taxes and charges ($536!!) and now I just have to work up the leave and save spending money. Must stop buying shiny things. Put the credit card down and back away now.

Speaking of shiny things, another arrived today - the Anniversary tinbox set of Withnail and I. It's lovely.

"Primate smarts..."

This was the editorial of the latest International Zoo News:

"International Zoo News Vol. 53, No. 6 (2006), p. 325

A recent survey of primate intelligence [R.O. Deaner, C.P. van Schaik and V. Johnson, Evolutionary Psychology 4 (2006), 149-1961 has resulted in some unexpected findings. The study, led by Robert Deaner at Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina, analysed the results of dozens of problem solving puzzles given by scientists to various species. Previous research had attempted to compare different primates' abilities at specific tasks, including tests of ability to navigate mazes, to untangle a jumble of differently coloured threads to find food, and to spot the odd one out in a series of images, but no one had ever combined these data into an overall measure of intelligence. This is what Dr Deaner's team have now done, producing a league table of the cognitive ability of a number of genera or species (Table 1). The fact that orang-utans beat chimpanzees into first place will probably cause little surprise to keepers and curators with experience of the extraordinary powers of observation, concentration and persistence which have made these apes the Houdinis of the zoo world. But what becomes of the widely-held theory that group living triggers increased brain-power, if the solitary orang turns out to have a higher IQ than the gregarious chimp?

Table 1. League table of primate intelligence
1. Orang-utan
2. Chimpanzee
3. Spider monkey
4. Gorilla
5. Surili (Leaf monkey)
6. Macaque
7. Mandrill
8. Guenon
9. Mangabey
10. Capuchin
11. Woolly monkey
12. Gibbon
13. Baboon
14. Slow loris
15 Night monkey
16. Ruffed lemur
17. Brown lemur
18. Fork-marked lemur
19. Ring-tailed lemur
20. Bushbaby
21. Squirrel monkey
22. Mouse lemur
23. Marmoset
24. Talapoin

The appearance of the spider monkey in third place, ahead even of the gorilla, is astonishing. But the surprises continue all the way down. Most of us, probably, have always taken for granted a rough, generalized hierarchy of primate intelligence, with apes at the top, followed by Old World monkeys, New World monkeys and prosimians. The picture here is much more complicated. There are indeed five Old World monkeys in the top ten, but also two New World ones. Another Old World species, the talapoin, is at the bottom of the list. And who would have expected the slow loris to outsmart not merely the lemurs, but several monkeys as well? The findings will no doubt arouse much interest - and presumably some opposition - in the scientific community. But it would also be useful to hear the more subjective reactions of zoo people with long day-to-day experience of the animals in question."

One of our primate keepers found it more that astonishing that spider monkeys are smarter than gorillas; obviously they've never met ours. I suggested that perhaps the spider monkeys paid some bonobos to do the tests for them. I notice that bonobos aren't included in the study; either that, or they've been lumped in with chimpanzees, which they're not. It would be interesting to read the complete study. Even more interesting to see where bonobos would come in the league table - probably just below, if not equal to, orangs.


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