Koko the gorilla learned to communicate with humans by learning more than a thousand modified ASL hand signs. Kanzi the bonobo interacts with people via a portable keyboard with lexigrams.


But now comes word out of the Congo that apes may be even smarter than previously thought — and able to manage complex interactions that include both humans and their fellow primates.

When a young gorilla named Mayani became snared in a poacher’s trap in Virunga National Park in the DRC, rangers put out an urgent call for help. When Martin Kabuyaya and Eddy Kambale of Gorilla Doctors arrived at the scene, one of their major concerns was how they were going from attacking them or otherwise interfering with their rescue operation.

But have to no fear: Bukima was there. The silverback realized the Gorilla Doctors were there to help rather than harm Mayani and he quickly took control of the situation.

According to a report on the Virunga.org website, “this intervention had the distinct possibility of becoming difficult and dangerous. As expected, several of the silverbacks charged the team in an attempt to protect Mayani from the perceived threat. What transpired next, though, left everyone stunned.

“The dominant silverback of the group, Bukima, began chasing the others away from the Gorilla Doctors. Bukima then proceeded to maintain a safe perimeter for Dr. Eddy as he worked to remove the snare. Bukima clearly knew that Dr. Eddy and the rangers were there to help. And, he also knew that as the leader of the group, it was his job to manage the situation.”

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