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Science Wednesdays: Ape Genius

Tue, 06/11/2013 - 3:12pm -- WCVE

The great apes —  which include chimps, orangutans, gorillas and bonobos —  seem to have rich emotional lives similar to our own. But just how smart are these animals? A new generation of investigators is revealing the secret mental lives of great apes; our evolutionary next-of-kin are turning out to be far smarter than most experts ever imagined.

But just as clever experiments are exposing the extraordinary abilities of great apes, new research is redefining the mental talents of our own species. Scientists are at last zeroing in on what separates us from our closest living relatives.

Watch NOVA: Ape Genius June 12 at 9:00 p.m. on WCVE PBS / WHTJ PBS.

Watch on PBS Video

NOVA takes viewers to the African savannah and research labs in Texas, Germany and Japan to explore a number of fascinating new experiments that shed light on just what apes are thinking.

At a research site in Fongoli, Senegal, a female chimpanzee breaks off a branch, chews the end to make it sharp, then uses this rudimentary spear to skewer a tasty bush baby hiding inside a hollow tree. Captured in exclusive video, it is the first time anyone has documented a chimpanzee wielding a carefully prepared, preplanned weapon, and it is a tantalizing glimpse into the depths of ape intelligence.

But it’s only the latest in a slew of extraordinary new findings about ape behavior. The more researchers learn about the great apes, the more evidence they see of creative intellect.