A group of professors from the University of Iowa visited the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines (Tuesday) to see if there might be opportunities to share in their research of animals. Mary Trachsel, an associate professor of rhetoric, says they’re all involved in a program is called “Articulating the Animal.”
She says it’s an interdisciplinary research group that includes people from several departments with projects that involved with animals. She says her own project deals with ape language and says some of the “some of the most famous language enabled apes” are at the great Ape Trust.
Trachsel says she’s looking to get an in-depth picture of how people deal with the apes. She says her interest now is in the kinds of relationships people have with captive apes. She says language is just the tip of the iceberg and there’s really much more to communication between the species. Psychology professor
Ed Wasserman has been studying human and animal relationships for 35 years.
He says, “We’re interested in what has heretofore been thought to be a unique dividing line between humans and animals, and that’s the ability to form abstract concepts. Of course language is the other one. And our work in the University of Iowa and soon to be here at the Great Ape Trust will look at the extent to which the concept of ‘same and different’ is uniquely human, or general across a broad range of species.”
Wasserman says early study indicates the broad range idea. He says, “Our first evidence suggests that in fact that humans are not special, that the concept of sameness and differentness is one that other animals have as well. The trick, the trick is to get behavioral methods that allow us to understand the nature of that concept to see it in operation in other animals.” The U-of-I group talk with researchers at the Great Ape Trust about their projects, and then got a tour of the work going on with bonobos and orangatangs at the trust. The two sides will discuss possible ways to collaborate on their research.