I recently visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see nature photography by Michael Nichols. One of the photos I found most emotional was a shot of Jane Goodall with a chimpanzee named Gregoire, who was finally released from his cage after being locked up most of his life. It’s disturbing and tender at once, and Jane’s gaze shows no fear but merely patience. It’s about understanding the chimpanzee’s body language and essence, which is why I admire Jane so much. Now we all have a chance to discover apes thanks to a new experiment I learned about on Phys.org. It’s part of The Great Ape Dictionary and seeks to find out if humans can understand the body language of apes. This is an online test which shows video clips of chimpanzee and bonobo in the wild doing their gestures. You just need to click on the answers that best describe what you think the gestures mean.
This gestural research comes from University of St Andrews, School of Psychology & Neuroscience. According to their site they are looking at the human connection.
If many great ape gestures, and perhaps the gesture meanings, are shared across all the other apes that suggests that they may have a very old evolutionary origin. So it’s possible that while modern humans use language to communicate the same requests we might still be able to recognise the gestures and what they mean in other apes.
Although the footage is challenging, it’s fascinating to see these close-up examples of communication. It’s also a great reminder of our connection to the larger family tree. Be sure to explore the project’s site to learn even more about the body language of these amazing animals. This is the perfect citizen science project for your lunch break.