Krasnow’s Ape Expert Featured on Discovery Channel

Posted: August 2, 2001 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

With all the hoopla surrounding the remake of the movie Planet of the Apes, Robert Shumaker, director of cognitive behavioral research at the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study, concludes, “The general public is simply fascinated with great apes.”

That apparently was also the conclusion reached by the Discovery Channel in programming several documentaries on African wildlife and great apes to coincide with the release of the movie. The Discovery Channel “mini-marathon” on great apes airs today, and will feature Shumaker during several interstitials.

Shumaker has worked with great apes at the National Zoo since 1984, and in the last six years has conducted the orangutan language research project at the zoo. The Discovery crew interviewed him about apes and the science behind understanding their language ability, and filmed one of the lessons in which the orangs communicated to Shumaker through touch-sensitive computers.

“We also discussed the concept of ‘theory of mind,’ which is currently a hot topic in the study of great apes,” Shumaker says. “It refers to the ability of one individual to understand something from another individual’s point of view. It seems apparent that theory of mind is probably limited to a very small number of species, which probably includes humans and the other great apes.”

Shumaker also commented on the quality of the makeup and costumes used in the new film, and on the accuracy of the film’s depiction of different species.

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