By Anupum Pant
Alex was a random African grey parrot that Irene Pepperberg, an animal cognition scientist, picked up from a pet store. She had a point to prove. There wasn’t anything different about this particular parrot. And yet, for 30 years, both the parrot and the researcher worked together for hours everyday and proved something no one had ever proved before.
Irene demonstrated that a “bird brained” creature was able to demonstrate excellent language, communication and intelligence. After the 30-year long experiment, Irene had clearly shown that it doesn’t take a primate sized brain to display intelligent behaviour – or the kind of behaviour we humans label as intelligent.
Alex knew more than 100 english words, a couple of one liners, shapes and colours. More importantly, unlike what all the parrots usually do, Alex actually understood what he said. He displayed a remarkable ability to combine 2 different words from his vocabulary to say something meaningful. It wasn’t just repetition of sounds he did.
In these 30 years, Irene had become extremely attached to Alex, had started moving on to teach him more complex tasks and treated him like a child. But suddenly on September 6th, 2007 at the age of 31, Alex died. This event left a hole in the researcher’s heart. It made headlines the next day. Economist even published an obituary like they do for famous human deaths. It was indeed a huge loss for Irene, and science. Its last words were –
You be good, see you tomorrow. I love you.