Jul 27, 2016

Rocky the Orangutan Copies Human Sounds

Rocky the orangutan.
Rocky, an orangutan at the Indianapolis Zoo, can copy the pitch and tone of vowel-like sounds made by people, according to a new study.

The ability, demonstrated by Rocky in a video and documented in the journal Scientific Reports, suggests that critical skills underlying human speech were present in the common ancestor of our species and other great apes.

As the video shows, Rocky -- when rewarded with plenty of peanuts -- can play a successful game of "do-as-I-do." He really nails one of the sounds towards the end of the clip:

"It's not clear how spoken language evolved from the communication systems of the ancestral great apes," project leader Adriano Lameira of Durham University said in a press release. "Instead of learning new sounds, it has been presumed that sounds made by great apes are driven by arousal over which they have no control, but our research proves that orangutans have the potential capacity to control the action of their voices.

"This indicates that the voice control shown by humans could derive from an evolutionary ancestor with similar voice control capacities as those found in orangutans and in all great apes more generally."

Lameira and his team compared the vowel-like sounds produced by Rocky with the largest available database of orangutan calls. The database recordings were collected from over 12,000 hours of observations of more than 120 orangutans from 15 wild and captive populations.

After this extensive comparison, the scientists were able to conclude that the sounds made by Rocky were different than the sounds included in the database. This shows that Rocky was able to learn new sounds and to control the action of his voice in a "conversational" context.

Read more at Discovery News

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