Not to be confused with Kanji.
Born (1980-10-28) October 28, 1980
Georgia State University
Known for Intelligent use of lexigram
Children Teco (June 1, 2010)[1]
Relatives Matata (mother)
Panbanisha (sister)
Nyota (nephew)
Nathen (nephew)
Kanzi, language-reared male bonobo, converses with Sue Savage-Rumbaugh in 2006 using a portable "keyboard" of arbitrary symbols that Kanzi associates with words.
Kanzi has learned hundreds of arbitrary symbols representing words, objects, and familiar people (including the generic "Visitor").
Sue Savage-Rumbaugh (L), Kanzi (R), and his sister Panbinisha (C) working at the portable "keyboard."
Although Kanzi can sometimes mimic human speech, this shows him during a species-standard vocalization. Credit: W. H. Calvin, 2006.

Kanzi (born October 28, 1980), also known by the lexigram (from the character ), is a male bonobo who has been featured in several studies on great ape language. According to Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, a primatologist who has studied the bonobo throughout his life, Kanzi has exhibited advanced linguistic aptitude.[1][2][3]


Born to Lorel and Bosandjo at Yerkes field station at Emory University and moved to the Language Research Center at Georgia State University, Kanzi was stolen and adopted shortly after birth by a more dominant female, Matata. Kanzi and his sister (Matata's offspring, now deceased) moved to the Ape Cognition and Conservation Initiative (ACCI),[4] formerly the Great Ape Trust, in Des Moines, Iowa, where Kanzi is the alpha male of the resident community of Bonobos. He turned 35 in October 2015.

As an infant, Kanzi accompanied Matata to sessions where Matata was taught language through keyboard lexigrams, but showed little interest in the lessons. It was a great surprise to researchers then when one day, while Matata was away, Kanzi began competently using the lexigrams, becoming not only the first observed ape to have learned aspects of language naturalistically rather than through direct training, but also the first observed bonobo to appear to use some elements of language at all.[2][3] Within a short time, Kanzi had mastered the ten words that researchers had been struggling to teach his adoptive mother, and he has since learned more than two hundred more. When he hears a spoken word (through headphones, to filter out nonverbal clues), he points to the correct lexigram.[2][3]

According to a Discover article, Kanzi is an accomplished tool user.[5]

Kanzi's adoptive mother, Matata, lived to be one of world's oldest captive bonobos until her death in June 2014.[6] In the matriarchal society of bonobos, a male's position is primarily determined by the position of the females he is related to; Matata was the group's chief leader. According to the Smithsonian magazine, Kanzi "has the mien of an aging patriarch – he's balding and paunchy with serious, deep-set eyes."[7] This description is confirmed by a full-page color photograph of Kanzi in the March 2008 National Geographic, and a full-page black-and white photograph in Time magazine.[8]

Teco, son of Kanzi, was born June 1, 2010.[9]

Examples of Kanzi's behavior

The following are highly suggestive anecdotes, not experimental demonstrations.


Although Kanzi learned to communicate using a keyboard with lexigrams, Kanzi also picked up some American Sign Language from watching videos of Koko the gorilla, who communicates using sign language to her keeper Penny Patterson; Savage-Rumbaugh did not realize Kanzi could sign until he signed "You, Gorilla, Question" to anthropologist Dawn Prince-Hughes, who had previously worked closely with gorillas.[16] Based on trials performed at Yerkes Primate Research Center, Kanzi was able to correctly identify symbols 89-95% of the time.[17]

Kanzi cannot speak vocally in a manner that is comprehensible to most humans, as bonobos have different vocal tracts from humans, which makes them incapable of reproducing most of the vocal sounds humans make. At the same time, it was noticed that every time Kanzi communicated with humans with specially designed graphic symbols, he also produced some vocalization. It was later found out that Kanzi was actually producing the articulate equivalent of the symbols he was indicating, although in a very high pitch and with distortions.[18]

See also

Other animals used in language studies:


  1. 1 2 Kluger, Jeffrey (August 5, 2010). "Inside the Minds of Animals". Time. Retrieved December 13, 2014.
  2. 1 2 3 Savage-Rumbaugh, S., & Lewin, R., (1994). Kanzi: The Ape at the Brink of the Human Mind. Wiley. ISBN 0-471-58591-2.
  3. 1 2 3 Mitani, J. (1995). "Kanzi: The Ape at the Brink of the Human Mind". Scientific American. 272 (6). ISSN 0036-8733.
  4. "ACCI: Ape Cognition & Conservation Initiative". apeinitiative.org. Retrieved 2016-03-08.
  5. "Ape at the Brink". Discover. September 1994.
  6. Finney, Daniel (June 22, 2014). "Bonobo Matata dies at Des Moines ape conservation". The Desmoines Register. Retrieved 27 June 2014.
  7. Raffaele, Smithsonian, November 2006.
  8. Time, August 16, 2010.
  9. TIME, August 16, 2010.
  10. 1 2 3 Raffaele, P (November 2006). "Speaking Bonobo". Simithsonian. Retrieved 2008-03-18.
  11. "Amazing photos of Kanzi the bonobo lighting a fire and cooking a meal". The Daily Telegraph. December 30, 2011.
  12. Savage-Rumbaugh, Sue; Fields, William M.; Spircu, Tiberu (2004). "The emergence of knapping and vocal expression embedded in a Pan/Homo culture" (PDF). Biology and Philosophy. 19: 541–575. doi:10.1007/sbiph-004-0528-0.
  13. Schick, K. D., Toth, N., Garufi, G., Savage-Rumbaugh, E. S., Rumbaugh, D., & Sevcik, R. (1999). Continuing Investigations into the Stone Tool-making and Tool-using Capabilities of a Bonobo (Pan paniscus). Journal of Archaeological Science, 26(7), 821-832.
  14. Season 4, Episode 3. Screened 10/30/2000
  15. Leonard, Tom (June 7, 2014). "He can cook, play music, use a computer - and make sarcastic jokes chatting with his 3,000-word vocabulary: My lunch with the world's cleverest chimp (who Skyped me later for another chat)". Daily Mail. Retrieved 27 June 2014.
  16. Prince-Hughes, Dawn (1987). Songs of the Gorilla Nation. Harmony. p. 135. ISBN 1-4000-5058-8.
  17. Williams, S.L. (1997). "Comprehension Skills of Language-Competent and Nonlanguage-Competent Apes.". Language and Communication Journal.
  18. Greenspan, S. I., and S. G. Shanjer. 2004. The first idea: How symbols, language and intelligence evolved from our primate ancestors to modern humans. Da Capo Press.

Further reading

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