Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Alex’s Obituary in the NYTimes

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Alex, the African grey parrot, Psittacus erithacus,
who worked with Irene Pepperberg for more than 30 years.

Image: Mike Lovett/Brandeis University [larger size]

Alex, the African grey parrot who worked with Irene Pepperberg, has managed something that most of us never will: his obituary is in today’s NYTimes;

Scientists have long debated whether any other species can develop the ability to learn human language. Alex’s language facility was, in some ways, more surprising than the feats of primates that have been taught American Sign Language, like Koko the gorilla, trained by Penny Patterson at the Gorilla Foundation/Koko.org in Woodside, Calif., or Washoe the chimpanzee, studied by R. Allen and Beatrice Gardner at the University of Nevada in the 1960s and 1970s.

[...]

Even up through last week, Alex was working with Dr. Pepperberg on compound words and hard-to-pronounce words. As she put him into his cage for the night last Thursday, she recalled, Alex looked at her and said: “You be good, see you tomorrow. I love you.”

He was found dead in his cage the next morning, Dr. Pepperberg said. [NYTimes story]

Comments

  1. #1 Kristina
    September 12, 2007

    This may have already been pointed out, but Alex also earned a literary reference in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake.

  2. #2 Kristina
    September 12, 2007

    This may have already been pointed out, but Alex also earned a literary reference in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake.

  3. #3 Joyce
    September 12, 2007

    Humans are very smart, but in general they are not wise. Animals can and do communicate with us and work for us and share our lives, but we have such egos that we have very little humility when it comes to the animal world. We always compare them to us. They are not like us. They are their own species. If we could see into their lives as well as they can see into ours we would understand a great deal more about them, but our ego and our big brains blind us to them.

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