Do Oakland Zoo Chimps Read More Than You?

Categories: Animals, Science
It's a page-turner all right...
When the Oakland Zoo yesterday sent out a press release announcing preschool children donating toys and books to the Oakland Zoo, your humble narrator figured the zoo would sell them and use the money for a good cause.

Wrong. It turns out, the toys and books are for the animals. The Oakland Zoo's chimps desire the G.I. Joe with the kung-fu grip just as much as any child -- and enjoy light reading fare as well. Are the chimps reading more than the rest of us? Quite possibly. They certainly have more time.

Margaret Rousser, the zoological manager for the primate and children's zoo, notes that her chimps are not "reading" per se. Rather, they simply enjoy looking at the pictures -- not unlike so many of us who paw through the Oakland Zoo chimps' standard fare of National Geographic.

Does a chimp recognize a picture of a chimp when he sees it? Yes, says Rousser. A chimp recognizes himself in the mirror and even understands the concept of a picture; he's not wondering how the chimp got into the two-dimensional plane (though Superman II might be a bit confusing).

Rousser couldn't think of any reading material that would be inappropriate for chimps. But, since zoo-goers can see everything the animals are doing, it's easy to think of magazines that would be inappropriate for a family setting. So the chimps don't get those.

As far as toys -- and zoo staff prefer the term enrichment tool -- large, plastic cars are well-liked. Wild chimps enjoy thrashing about with rocks and sticks and making a tremendous amount of noise. But plastic cars are safer than sticks and stones -- which can break your bones. One particular chimp named Moses is the automotive enthusiast of the bunch. He hurls about the plastic car and pushes it around. He never hops behind the wheel, however. And since chimps are incredibly strong, nothing lasts too long.

Anyone who'd like to donate reading material or toys to the chimps or other zoo critters is welcome to do so here.

Writers contemplating the notion of their work ending up being perused by a chimp: We feel your pain.

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