Jamie loves to take part in the human activities at the sanctuary. When we do our closing rounds at night, Jamie insists on having her own pen and clipboard so she can take part. When we clean, Jamie will often begin to scrub a part of her enclosure. And when I am building or repairing something, Jamie will sometimes use her plastic tools to make some repairs of her own.
Yesterday, we began collecting samples for routine fecal exams. Jamie watched intently as I scooped up a sample in a special container. I could tell that she wanted to participate, but I couldn’t spare one of the special containers, so I gave her a tongue depressor on my way out the door. Later that day, when Jackie went in to spot clean the enclosure, she found that Jamie had used the tongue depressor to collect her own stool samples…into the head of a troll doll.
I often hear people say that a certain chimpanzee behavior is not a sign of intelligence because they are simply mimicking human behavior. But I’ve noticed that the chimpanzees that mimic human behavior the most are often the best problem solvers and tool users as well. This makes sense when you think about it. Children spend years mimicking the behavior of adults without understanding their goals or intent, but in doing so they gain valuable skills and learn patterns of behavior that will be important to them later in life.
Jamie is certainly capable of solving problems through a flash of insight. Sometimes you can almost see the wheels turning in her head while she runs through the possible solutions to her problem. But those possible solutions are only available to her because she spends so much time observing and mimicking the behavior of humans and other chimpanzees.
So I think that copying should be given the respect it deserves. We’ll see if the laboratory feels the same way when they receive their next stool sample in the head of a troll doll.