By Andrew R. Halloran
St. Martin’s Press, $25.99, 276 pages
Andrew Halloran balances the roles of scientist and storyteller in The Song of the Ape. Halloran compares various studies of chimpanzees living in the wild with studies of chimpanzees living in captivity. Not only did these studies show that chimpanzees use verbal and non verbal communication to maneuver complex social situations, but they also showed the similarities of how both chimpanzees and humans learn language. For decades, scientists continued to attempt to train chimpanzees to learn human language and communicate with humans via sign language etc. Instead of trying to make chimpanzees more humanlike, Halloran shows us that we need to stop and observe to see that chimpanzees are already masters of their own complex communication. Halloran’s tales of the chimpanzees he grew to know so well as a zookeeper at an animal park in Florida are insightful and entertaining. Chimpanzees are not simple animals without intelligence. They have complex social dynamics that can play out just like an episode of the show “Survivor”. Hierarchies, alliances, fighting and compassion all play a role in the day to day lives and relationships of chimpanzees. From the verbalizations and calls to gestures and posturing, chimpanzees can communicate very specific and very complicated messages. These languages are not only influenced by current environmental factors, but also by each individual chimpanzee’s personal history. This is an excellent read not only for those who love the study of language and communication, but also for those who are die hard animal lovers.
Reviewed by Crystal Schneider