Kanzi, a captive bonobo ape, has taught himself how to light a fire and cook food over it. Kanzi lives at the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa, where he is studied by researcher Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh.
It was a pivotal moment in history that separated man from other primates. Over a million years ago humankind began to conquer its fear of fire and use it as a tool. But now one special ape – a 31-year-old bonobo chimpanzee called Kanzi at the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa – is showing us just how close we really are. Astonishingly the male chimp’s favourite things to do is make campfires. With impressive dexterity 12 stone (170lb) Kanzi collects firewood and breaks it into appropriate sizes. He arranges the sticks in a pile, ignites them with matches or a lighter, and then watches the flames take hold. Then Kanzi erects a grill over his fire so he can cook burgers and marshmallows over it, using a frying pan. According to Dr Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, his main handler and the only scientist ever to conduct language research with bonobos, he does it all because it fascinates him. Watching Kanzi make fire is particularly interesting to scientists at the facility – a world-class research centre dedicated to studying the behaviour and intelligence of great apes – because they are investigating the big cultural events that led to differences between humans and other primates. Because we share 99.5% genes with bonobos – our closest relatives – Dr Savage-Rumbaugh argues our differences are mainly cultural.