cephalopod freedom & simian captivity

I am guessing that one our traits with early roots is to capture and own and study and have different plants and animals.  Let’s call it the trait of domestication.  Long years ago I took a class in comparative neuropsychology in which we all had to do a  paper on one researcher’s efforts to study a particular species.  Somehow or another, I am not sure how but do believe it affected me for the rest of my life, better and worse, I was assigned a researcher (can’t remember the name now 38 years later) who spent a career trying to train, i.e., behaviorally condition, an octopus.  And he did, getting the beast to move to one side of the aquarium or the other after a stimulus.  To do so he persisted over some years in exploring what the octopus could and would perceive as a salient stimulus and what condition would cause it to move and how to get the beast to ‘associate’ those two.  I guess he proved Pavlov could have used an octopus or Skinner a squid; I am not sure of much else.  In the intervening time biologists have considered the large eyes of the octopus, its 8 legs and suction cups, its ink and mobility by jet wash, and its beak in a much more ecologically minded way and so we understand better now the intelligence of the octopus.

But wait, what is this news story?  An octopus we named Inky busted out (literally) from an aquarium in New Zealand, crawled down or through a drain pipe, and escaped to the sea.  I gotta admire Inky’s spirit and have to wonder about his kin–would they all take advantage of the opportunity for freedom if presented?  Or was he particularly bright or rambunctious to break out of his enclosure?  If you see him, ask.

And then we have an escaped chimpanzee in Japan, I think, who did all he could to evade recapture.  Of course, a dangerous animal like that had to be shot with a sedative dart and re-interred in the zoo.  Google this story (the one about Inky too) and see a picture of the chimp atop power lines (yes, power lines) struggling to escape his keepers and look at his expression.  I think he and Inky shared the same opinion about captivity.

Yes, I do anthropomorphize here but only to emphasize what is obviously the natural inclination of these animals and then to say that we humans share it.  If you disagree, I guess you are, in Frans de Waal’s term, in anthropodenial.  Travel on.


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