By Nicholas St. Fleur
Orangutan hear, orangutan do.
Researchers at the Indianapolis Zoo observed an orangutan mimic the pitch and tone of human sounds, for the first time. The finding, which was published Wednesday, provides insight into the evolutionary origin of human speech, the team said.
“It really redefines for us what we know about the capabilities of orangutans,” said Rob Shumaker, director of the zoo and an author on the paper. “What we have to consider now is the possibility that the origins of spoken language are not exclusively human, and that they may have come from great apes.”
Rocky, an 11-year-old orangutan at the zoo, has a special ability. He can make sounds using his vocal folds, or voice box, that resemble the vowel “A,” and sound like “Ah.” The noises, or “wookies” as the researchers called them, are variations of the same vocalization.
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