Understanding Language Through Apes and Lexigrams





The Great Ape Trust is a scientific research facility in Des Moines, Iowa, dedicated to understanding the origins and future of culture, language, tools and intelligence, and to the preservation of endangered great apes in their natural habitats. Announced in 2002 and receiving its first ape residents in 2004, Great Ape Trust is home to a colony of six bonobos involved in noninvasive interdisciplinary studies of their cognitive and communicative capabilities, and to six orangutans.

These apes have been taught rudimentary sign language and the use of lexigrams—symbols – symbols that do not graphically resemble their corresponding words—on computer keyboards, but can nonetheless be used for apes to understand and communicate. Some apes, such as Kanzi above, have been able to learn and use hundreds of lexigrams.

Baby bonobo Teco plays with iPad


Baby bonobo Teco, born June 1 2010 at Great Ape Trust, enjoys playing with the children’s apps on iPad. Here he’s seen with scientist Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh. Teco has both bonobo and human caregivers at Great Ape Trust.