Great Ape Trust Research Program
Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh is a scientist with special standing at Great Ape Trust of Iowa – a world-class research center dedicated to studying the behavior and intelligence of great apes. The first and only scientist to conduct language research with bonobos, Savage-Rumbaugh joined Great Ape Trust in 2005 following a 30-year association with Georgia State University’s Language Research Center (LRC). In 2008, she retired from the administrative and laboratory duties in the Great Ape Trust bonobo facility to focus exclusively on research, writing and lecturing.
At the LRC, Dr. Savage-Rumbaugh helped pioneer the use of a number of new technologies for working with primates. These include a keyboard which provides for speech synthesis, allowing the animals to communicate using spoken English, and a “primate friendly” computer-based joystick terminal that permits the automated presentation of many different computerized tasks. Information developed at the center regarding the abilities of non-human primates to acquire symbols, comprehend spoken words, decode simple syntactical structures, learn concepts of number and quantity, and perform complex perceptual-motor tasks has helped change the way humans view other members of the primate order.
Dr. Savage-Rumbaugh’s work with Kanzi, the first ape to learn language in the same manner as children, was detailed in Language Comprehension in Ape and Child published in Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development (1993). It was selected by the “Millennium Project” as one of the top 100 most influential works in cognitive science in the 20th century by the University of Minnesota Center for Cognitive Sciences in 1991. Dr. Savage-Rumbaugh’s work is also featured in Apes, Language and the Human Mind (Oxford Press, 1996) and Kanzi: The Ape at the Brink of the Human Mind (John Wiley & Sons, 1995).
- The Smithsonian Institution’s display of “Understanding Ourselves, Understanding Each Other”
- Invited speaker to the Nobel Conference XXXII (1996)
- Honorary Doctor of Science from the University of Chicago (1997)
- Leighton A. Wilkie Award in Anthropology from Indiana University (2000)
- Perception of Personality Traits and Semantic Learning in Evolving Hominids, in The Descent of Mind: Psychological Perspectives on Hominid Evolution (pages 98-115), Oxford University Press, 1999.
- Ape Communication: Between a Rock and a Hard Place in Origins of Language: What Non-Human Primates Can Tell Us, School of American Research Press, 1999.
- Continuing Investigations into the Stone Tool-Making and Tool-Using Capabilities of Bonobo (Pan paniscus) in Journal of Archaeological Science, 26 (pages 821-832), 1999.
- Linguistic, Cultural and Cognitive Capacities of Bonobos (Pan paniscus), in Culture & Psychology, Vol. 6(2) (pages 131-153), 2000.