Extraordinary Animals - Tuesday January 15

extraordinary animals
the greatest ape (5/7)

Continuing tonight is the documentary series profiling a range of remarkable animals from across the globe. Tonight’s film introduces Azy, a 30-year-old orang-utan with incredible mental abilities. Over a number of years, Azy has displayed his intelligence by recognising symbols and objects; demonstrating self-awareness; and showing exceptional memory skills.

The Great Ape Trust in Iowa is home to one of the most remarkable primates ever studied – cheerful orang-utan Azy. This amazing furry fellow has been research partner to Dr Robert Shumaker for nearly 25 years. Inquisitive, gentle and even slightly shy, Azy has been instrumental in teaching primatologists more about the minds of these poorly understood animals. Over the years, he and Dr Shumaker have forged an incredibly strong bond and together they have developed a language which enables Azy to communicate.

Azy can use symbols and syntax presented on a computer monitor to express his thoughts and desires. Rob has taught Azy to recognize over 70 symbols representing various objects, including food, people and other orang-utans. This is a complex task to master, and even some humans have had problems grasping its intricacies.

Azy’s other surprising feats include evidence of his self-awareness, which he proves by taking a mirror-recognition test. However, Dr Schumaker is truly astonished when he shows Azy a video clip of an orang-utan he used to live with at another zoo, and whom he has not seen for eight years. It is obvious that Azy not only recognises his hairy old pal, but reacts emotionally to her as well.

Finally, Azy undergoes a long-term memory exercise to see if he can remember a test of logic and strategy that he last performed over eight years ago. His scores the first time around were consistently higher than all the other apes tested. If he can pass the test this time, Azy will prove that he truly is the greatest ape of all.

About the author

  • BBC One
  • BBC Two
  • BBC Three
  • ITV1
  • ITV2
  • 4
  • E4
  • Film4
  • More4
  • Five
  • Fiver
  • Sky1