Darwin at the Zoo

Jonathan Weiner in Scientific American:

D25a15f4e7f299df3238208b0d11d7ab_1It was not until a year and a half after his voyage on board the Beagle that Charles Darwin first came face to face with an ape. He was standing by the giraffe house at the London Zoo on a warm day in late March of 1838. The zoo had just acquired an orangutan named Jenny. One of the keepers was teasing her–showing her an apple, refusing to hand it over. Poor Jenny “threw herself on her back, kicked & cried, precisely like a naughty child,” Darwin wrote in a letter to his sister.

In the secret notebooks that he kept after the voyage, Darwin was speculating about evolution from every angle, including the emotional, and he was fascinated by Jenny’s tantrum. What is it like to be an ape? Does an orangutan’s frustration feel a lot like ours? Might she cherish some sense of right and wrong? Will an ape despair because her keeper is breaking the rules–because he is just not playing fair?

More here.