Researchers at the Indianapolis Zoo have observed an orangutan mimicking human sounds for the first time. Rocky, an 11-year-old ape, caught the researchers’ attention because of unusual noises he made to attract caretakers. They discovered Rocky could do what no other ape could: produce all-new sounds.
Rocky can copy only simple vowel-like sounds. Still, the ape’s incredible ability is providing valuable research into the development of human speech.
According to Popular Science:
Rocky’s performance on an imitation game suggests otherwise. Scientists engaged him in a few rounds of “do-as-I-do” at his home, the Indianapolis Zoo. To earn his snacks, Rocky had to copy sounds a person made. Rocky was able move his vocalizations up and down in pitch and tone to match the experimenter, and make calls that resembled both consonants and vowels.
The scientists checked Rocky’s exclamations against a database of more than 12,000 hours of wild and captive orangutan calls, and found that these sounds fell outside the repertoire of normal orangutan vocalizations.
See video of Rocky in action below: