Bonnie is an orangutan (not a monkey) living at the National Zoo who taught herself how to whistle. And get this: she doesn’t just whistle for food rewards! She actually—bear with me here—likes to whistle, although we can’t be sure. We have to put ‘likes’ in single quotes, because I still can’t understand why an animal would do something if not for a food reward.
Check out Bonnie’s whistle in the video below, which she basically invented in the vacuum of her lonely zoo cage. She must have been inspired by the breeze blowing across her rusty cage bars. How many people have invented whistling on their own? Probably, as many as have invented the alphabet.
Bonnie’s whistle is kind of like a bird call. She hits 3 notes, and then pauses. The interval she uses is about a whole tone between an F# and G#. There also bends on each note. The first seems to bend down, while the middle bends up, and the third bends up and down. It is notated as quarter-tone sharps below, to best approximate her portamento. Drag over the noteheads or click the score.
It ain’t dixie, but what a tone—wet and full-lipped. Bonnie’s whistle sounds similar to a mourning dove call, but she isn’t copying the birds. Researchers have suggested that Bonnie picked up her unique talent from a former whistling caretaker.
Pretty soon, apes will be talking too, in American English one hopes. Although, even if Bonnie was singing Shakespeare sonnets, we’d still question her motivations.
Like, do you really enjoy this, or are you in it for the food rewards?