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Gorillas can distinguish between human and non-human sounds


Strangers elicit a different response from apes than those they know and like.

The first research to indicate that gorillas can distinguish familiar human voices depending on their connection with the speaker has just been published.

Many animals can distinguish their own species’ sounds, and some can even detect voices from other species, such as humans. However, it has been shown that certain animals, such as gorillas, can not only identify familiar sounds but also link them to good or unpleasant experiences.

The University of Georgia is the first to establish that gorillas can distinguish recognizable human voices depending on their connection with the speaker, according to a recent research.

When imprisoned gorillas heard the voices of individuals they didn’t know or with whom they’d had unfavorable experiences, the researchers discovered that they reacted unfavorably. Their response suggests that the apes were aware of who the voices belonged to, as well as the nature of their connection with those people.

Although this study focused on gorillas at Zoo Atlanta, the results, which were published in the journal Animal Cognition, have broader implications for the wild relatives of confined animals.

“I mostly worked with wild gorillas, and one disadvantage of working with wild primates is that we could make them much more vulnerable to hunters through the habituation process because they become accustomed to seeing and hearing people,” said Roberta Salmi, lead author of the study and director of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences’ Primate Behavioral Ecology Lab. “There is hope if they can truly identify between persons.”

Voices are recognized by animals

Many animals seem to be able to identify and distinguish between sounds of their own species. However, some people can perform the same thing with other species.

“Babies, for example, can distinguish their mothers’ sounds as well as their fragrance. That’s how animals are wired “Salmi said. “We know that certain monkeys create special connections with members of different species in the wild.”

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It’s a means of surviving. When a monkey hears and identifies a known individual’s distress cry, they realize something is wrong and might attempt to hide or flee danger.

It’s less clear if undomesticated animals can distinguish particular people.

Dogs and cats can tell the difference between their owner’s voice and other people’s sounds, according to research. They can also sense changes in tone, which is why your dog looks so guilty after tipping over the trash can. Rover isn’t genuinely remorseful. Dogs and cats, on the other hand, have been domesticated for ages, resulting in a strong attachment between humans and their pets.

Animals in close proximity to humans, such as crows, pigeons, and even wild elephants, have also been found to distinguish between familiar and unfamiliar sounds. These findings show that being able to distinguish voices and judge danger levels may be crucial for animals who are exposed to people more often.

The gorillas reacted badly to the presence of certain humans who came into their indoor cage, according to Salmi and her colleagues. The animals seemed to get upset in the presence of vets and one maintenance worker in particular. However, it remained unclear if the animals were merely responding to the humans because they could see them.

The familiarity of human speech may help apes detect hazards

The team played audio recordings of three groups of people to the gorillas over the course of six months: long-term keepers who had known and worked with the gorillas for at least four years and had positive relationships with them; people who the apes knew and had negative interactions with, such as veterinarians and the maintenance worker; and people who were unfamiliar with the animals. The participants all said the same thing: “Hello and good morning. Hello there, “This is how gorilla keepers usually welcome them.

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The monkeys’ responses to their guardians’ voices were modest. The gorillas, on the other hand, showed indicators of discomfort when they heard the voices of individuals they didn’t know or with whom they’d had bad encounters, such as heightened alertness and vocalizations.

“One of the first things we saw was something that also occurs in the wild: they stopped what they were doing and focused their attention on any sound that seemed frightening or unusual,” Salmi added. “This is something we do as well. If the noise isn’t dangerous, I go about my business. If I hear someone entering my home, I quickly stop what I’m doing to find out what’s going on.”

It’s the first indicator of alertness for gorillas. The apes in the research stopped eating their goodies or doing whatever else they were doing when they heard unknown voices or the sounds of humans with whom they’d had bad experiences and began gazing toward the sound to determine if the voices were a danger. The gorillas didn’t seem to think the strangers were as dangerous as the vets and maintenance personnel.

“Some primates can tell the difference between hunters and researchers and have distinct responses to them,” Salmi said. “It would be incredibly beneficial if wild gorillas could identify between individuals who act differently not just by sight but also by speech. Knowing that researchers aren’t making gorillas more susceptible to hunters would help me sleep easier.”

The study’s co-authors are Caroline Jones, who obtained her PhD from the Department of Psychology, and Jodi Carrigan, who works at Zoo Atlanta.

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