Courtesy tim ellisA dozen years ago guards at a Swedish prison north of Stockholm discovered a secret cache of weapons hoarded by an inmate named Santino. Certain that some kind of trouble was brewing, prison officials put the otherwise model prisoner under close observation. And it was fortunate they did. Santino was observed several times using his rock arsenal as missiles that he hurled at visitors to the prison. No one was seriously injured in the assault and Santino was disciplined for his actions. But since then subsequent lockdowns have resulted in the discovery and confiscation of hundreds of similar ammunition stockpiles in Santino’s cell. And officials fear the prisoner is planning other attacks.
Normally this wouldn’t be that unusual a scenario. Prison life can be difficult and sometimes the frustrations of incarceration cause detainees to act out against their captors and society in general.
But in this case the prison is actually a zoo and the trouble-making prisoner is a chimpanzee.
When the male chimp’s weapons cache was first discovered, zoo officials called in Mathias Osvath, a cognitive scientist from Sweden’s Lund University and Santino’s behavior was monitored closely. Not only was the 31 year-old ape observed throwing stones at zoo visitors, but was he also observed searching out weaknesses in the walls of his enclosure, digging out loosened chunks of concrete, and hiding them for future barrages.
"These observations convincingly show that our fellow apes do consider the future in a very complex way," Osvath said. "It implies that they have a highly developed consciousness, including lifelike mental simulations of potential events."
And if that’s not disturbing enough:
“It could be that he is a genius, only more research will tell. On the other hand our research showed the same in orangutans and bonobos so he is not alone," said Joseph Call, a co-author of the study, which appeared in the journal Current Biology.
Oh, Santino’s a genius all right – an evil genius – and one with a nasty grudge against humanity.
“It is extremely frustrating for him that there are people out of his reach who are pointing at him and laughing," Osvath said. "It cannot be good to be so furious all the time."