Susan Savage-Rumbaugh has made startling breakthroughs in her lifelong work with chimpanzees and bonobos, showing the animals to be adept in picking up language and other "intelligent" behaviors.

Why you should listen

Into the great debate over intelligence and instinct -- over what makes us human -- Susan Savage-Rumbaugh has thrown a monkey wrench. Her work with apes has forced a new way of looking at what traits are truly and distinctly human, and new questions about whether some abilities we attribute to "species" are in fact due to an animal's social environment. She believes culture and tradition, in many cases more than biology, can account for differences between humans and other primates.

Her bonobo apes, including a superstar named Kanzi, understand spoken English, interact, and have learned to execute tasks once believed limited to humans -- such as starting and controlling a fire. They aren't trained in classic human-animal fashion. Like human children, the apes learn by watching. "Parents really don't know how they teach their children language," she has said. "Why should I have to know how I teach Kanzi language? I just act normal around him, and he learns it."

Susan Savage-Rumbaugh’s TED talks

Susan Savage-Rumbaugh on the TED Blog
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Scientist claim: "Missing link" found

May 19, 2009

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4 great talks for International Women's Day

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To celebrate March 8, International Women’s Day, we suggest these four TEDTalks gems from some amazing speakers — artists, scientists and economists who think deeply about the role of women. Author and activist Isabel Allende discusses women, creativity, feminism — and the power of passionate thinkers and doers: The former Finance Minister of Nigeria, Ngozi […]

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Beyond the Top 10 TEDTalks: user favorites

July 1, 2008

Last week, TEDTalks celebrated our 50 millionth view by counting down the Top 10 TEDTalks of all time (so far) — and inviting people to share their own favorites. Here are a few: My favorite is still Susan Savage-Rumbaugh and those bonobo apes. — S.F., Boynton Beach, Florida Stamets (mushrooms), Isabel Allende (passion), Dave Eggers […]

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Quotes from Susan Savage-Rumbaugh

We have a lot to learn from [bonobos], because they’re a very egalitarian society and they’re a very empathetic society. Sexual behavior is not confined to one aspect of their life that they set aside. It permeates their entire life.
Susan Savage-Rumbaugh
TED2004 • 1.7M views Apr 2007
Jaw-dropping, Fascinating