Who are you calling a dumb animal?

Twenty-nine-year-old Kanzi has been taught English at the research centre of the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa, wrote London, UK’s Daily Mail Aug. 12. He is one of seven [bonobo] apes there, and their incredible progress is forcing us to reassess everything we thought we knew about animals and intelligence.

But Kanzi is not the only reason for such a reassessment. Only this week, Canadian researchers at York’s Glendon College reported that orangutans use mime to act out elaborate messages to other apes – and, indeed, to people – to get them to do what they want.

York psychology Professor Anne Russon’s team of scientists examined 20 years of recorded data on orangutans moved from captivity to semi-wild forest conditions in Indonesian Borneo and recorded countless incidents of mime.

Mime was most often used when an initial attempt at communication failed. The scientists said this might explain why it happened so often with human interactions. “My impression is that they think we are idiots for not getting a perfectly clear request, and then a bit disgusted that they actually have to spell it out for us,” Russon said.

Whatever the reason, it is clear that these orangutans have cognitive abilities which hitherto have been considered uniquely human.

Russon says: “Mime is based on imitation, and imitation is already considered cognitively sophisticated in the sense of learning behaviour by watching rather than practice. This shows orangutans have the mental ability not only to imitate but to use imitation for broader purposes.”

Jane-Finch community uses Rexall Centre for youth tennis league

Over on the tennis court, the Maple Leaf Park project is part of a multi-year strategy by Tennis Canada and Rogers [sponsors of the Rogers Cup] to resurface courts in the city’s northwest (Maple Leaf Park is the 13th), provide indoor tennis equipment to dozens of middle schools in the area and make the Rexall Centre at York University’s Keele campus, available to a 400-player youth league from the Jane-Finch community on Sunday afternoons, wrote The Globe and Mail, Aug. 11.

A key way to make those contributions endure, Tennis Canada President &CEO Michael Downey said, has been providing funds to train local youth to teach tennis programs, as a part-time job, to other kids who’ve become interested in the sport at school. “There are all these programs that are starting to add up.”

The Sunday afternoon league at the Rexall Centre, Downey added, is now “run by parents. That’s where you get the longevity. You’ve got to get the local community owning and operating it.”

  • CP24-TV also reported on the program, Aug. 11, noting that tennis stars visited with local youth to pass along tennis tips.

Fair trade is a sweet deal

Fair trade, the idea that first-world countries can use their spending power to help third-world countries, is gaining in both acceptance and scope, experts say, wrote the Winnipeg Free Press Aug. 12.

“It essentially allows those in developed countries to use their spending power as consumers to help struggling farmers and workers in third-world countries,” says Dirk Matten, Hewlett-Packard Canada Chair in Corporate Social Responsibility in the Schulich School of Business at York University. But, he notes, fair trade has been slow to gain strength in Canada. “Here it is only 10 per cent of what it is in the United Kingdom and Europe, ” Matten says.

Carla Garnet is new curator at Art Gallery of Peterborough

The Art Gallery of Peterborough (AGP) has a new curator – and she’s looking forward to working at the waterfront facility, wrote The Peterborough Examiner Aug. 12.

“The AGP is an interesting space,” said Carla Garnet (MA ’09), a graduate of York’s Graduate Program in Art History. “It’s challenging, but exciting at the same time.”

Garnet knows the gallery; she has guest curated two previous exhibits, this year’s Ladies Sasquatch and 2007’s 18 Illuminations. “It was fantastic,” she said. “In the case of 18 Illuminations, the entire time I worked on it, I envisioned it at the AGP.”

Garnet is a graduate of the Ontario College of Art and has a master’s degree from York University. She lives in Toronto with her partner, artist John Abrams; their two children are in their 20s and attend university. 

York student killed in Poland car crash

An Oshawa woman [and York psychology student] was killed in a car crash that took the lives of the children of Poland’s ambassador to Canada, wrote the Toronto Sun Aug. 12.

Sylvia Maka, 19, died with her cousins – Michael, 19, and Maria, 15, the only children of Zenon Kosiniak-Kamysz, Poland’s ambassador to Canada – when their car crashed Monday in Lagow, Poland.

Officials at the Polish embassy in Ottawa confirmed Maka and her two cousins were on vacation when the crash occurred. The ambassador and his wife returned to Poland to make funeral arrangements, embassy officials said.

On air

  • Leo Panitch, Distinguished Research Professor of Political Science and Canada Research Chair in Comparative Political Economy in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, spoke about Ontario’s financial status, on Toronto’s AM640 Radio Aug. 12.
  • Krisna Saravanamuttu, president of the York Federation of Students, spoke on CP24-TV Aug. 11 about a planned meeting of human rights organizations, lawyers and student groups at York’s Keele campus to discuss the short-term needs of a group of Tamil refugees arriving in Canada by ship.