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RIP Alex the Parrot

Written by PETA | September 12, 2007

WildAboutTheWorld/Creative Commons
African_Grey_Parrot.jpg

The famous African Grey Parrot named Alex died late last week at Brandeis University outside of Boston. Alex knew English well enough to identify over 50 different objects, seven colors and numerous shapes by name. He could also count and was able to express desires, including, get this, his frustration with the repetitive research.

It’s being said that Alex’s advanced language and recognition skills revolutionized the understanding of the avian brain. Alex taught many people that yes, even birds have thoughts and feelings and preferences, and the ability to express them. And while that’s all well and good, the important thing to me is what we, as a society, do with that knowledge. We can’t acknowledge it when it’s convenient by ooohing and ahhhing because a bird can say “I love you,” without also accepting the responsibility that comes along with knowing that these animals each have a very real cognitive presence.

There are millions of birds suffering and dying for KFC and dying in Petsmart’s back rooms, all of whom are thinking and feeling and experiencing the world just like Alex did. They just don’t know how to express themselves in a way that we can understand. And if there’s one thing that we should have learned from Alex, it’s that we need to be open and “listen” to animals, even when they’re not speaking our language, because there’s a whole lot more going on inside their heads than we give them credit for.

Check out this great New York Times column from Verlyn Klinkenborg for his take on Alex.

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  • Tamara says:

    Yes it is sad. The fact is that there are caged birds thanks to bird mills pet stores and smugglers who sneak them in from other countries. Its the same situation as with dogs and cats. Try to stop all that nonsense. But also make sure the birds that are caged are well taken care of well socialized etc. That’s all we can do.

  • bigfanx says:

    Alex… gone now. After 31 years all those in captivity? he’s finally said his last human words. RIP dear Alex. I remember when I first heard about the studies involving Alex. I was in awe thinking that this small creature was communicating with a human… with human language and seemingly understanding the language. I remember also thinking that Alex may well have liked ‘his studies’ with Dr. Pepperberg. Thirtyone years ago compassion for animals was near nil. I sure that capturing an exotic bird from its natural habitat would NOT be permitted requested or condoned by an ethical and compassionate researcher today. For those individuals who choose to harrass the researchers I say “shame on you”. Dr Pepperberg remained committed to Alex for his entire life. Once involved in her studies Alex experienced the best of the best that a bird could experience. Let’s hope that we humans can learn the unspoken lesson that Alex was teaching us compassion for all living beings.

  • Tamara says:

    Steve I do agree so much. Dr. Pepperberg told of all the security they had to go through to get to where Alex was at. He was even in a windowless room which was very upsetting to me. They were afraid of animal activists taking him. It’s like now that we know how smart he is can we just retire him? Of course he could not be freed in the wild but…there really is no perfect solution I guess. I mean Alex was there we just have to deal with it. Make sure he has a happy life and make sure it happens less and less often to other birds. I don’t know… I do like the idea of using Alex as a symbol of how smart birds are and making people think and therefore not eat them… I remember that day I wore my “KFCWe do chickens wrong” tshirt and I did do it on purpose. I did get some looks from Dr. Pepperberg but she never said anything about it to me. And I was too new at the time to ask a question or make a comment to her. But I was offended when she was talking of animal rights activists…cause I don’t think PETA is breaking into any labs to steal birds. That’s not their way…

  • Tamara says:

    Steve I do agree so much. Dr. Pepperberg told of all the security they had to go through to get to where Alex was at. He was even in a windowless room which was very upsetting to me. They were afraid of animal activists taking him. It’s like now that we know how smart he is can we just retire him? Of course he could not be freed in the wild but…there really is no perfect solution I guess. I mean Alex was there we just have to deal with it. Make sure he has a happy life and make sure it happens less and less often to other birds. I don’t know…

  • Doug says:

    It’s great to read an uplifting story now and then. Very touching. A moving article from Klinkenborg and a nice intro Jack. “Most humans are not truly dispassionate observers. Were too invested in the idea of our superiority to understand what an inferior quality it really is.”

  • Steve says:

    Rex’s Mom Alex was 31 years old. And he would have been MUCH smarter and more sociable and incredibly creative flying around in the rainforest instead of being held prisoner for the sake of an experiment to see how humanlike he could be. All animals are brilliant at doing whatever it is that they do in nature. Let them do just that!

  • Tamara says:

    I got to meet Dr. Pepperberg a few years ago. She was signing her book at the bird fair the bird club I belonged to at the time was having. She also gave a very very interesting talk. She of course explained all about the Alex tests etc. She also said the same tests that they used on Alex they tried them on parakeets. I remember she said they found that the parakeets showed understanding etc. But they had more problem relaying this to the testers. They attributed this to the parakeets shorter attention span. They concluded the parakeets had the same intellegence as Alex however. Dont’ know what that has to do with anything but I am an advocate for the smaller birds. They are always seen as disposable. And Jack I’m glad you tied this all in with PetsMart and KFC. Dr. Pepperberg told how Alex and the other test greys I think there were 2 or 3 more loved to watch “Teletubbies” on tv. I had to raise my hand and tell Dr. Pepperberg that was my parakeet’s favorite too! That is how I stopped eating chicken and turkey. The minute I read chickens like to watch tv I just could not eat one. That would be like eating one of my babies… I wish other meat were easier but I’m working on it…

  • susan says:

    I believe Alex was 31 years old….does anyone know what he died of yet..thanks

  • Jaclyn says:

    Were too invested in the idea of our superiority to understand what an inferior quality it really is. I completely agree with Klinkenborg’s line above. We are too invested in our superiortiy and it is because of that that we are losing out on appreciating so many little things in life. We overact on the words superiority and dominion.

  • stasya berber says:

    Alex the Parrot will remain a mascot for those who realised the inadequate stations we have placed other animals even those with decidedly ‘puny’ brains can exhibit emotions complex experiences which we think are too sacred to be posessed by nonhuman beings However i find alex’s popularity interesting. When we claim to find ‘intelligence’ in other animalssuch as with alex the parrot or Koko the gorilla we think this means we also have to teach them to obey our orders and learn our words. I hope we realise that animals really do have their own sophisticated language to apply to their own realityneeds and challenges. we should be more amazed when we find evidence of this inner world uncomplicated by our rules scientists studying putty nosed monkeys in nigeria found that these monkeys were able to speak to each other in words and even speak in sentences by combining these words and all in their own language for example Pyow a leopard or land preditor is near by Hack an aerial predator is near an eagle Pwowhack lets leave lets go not used for specific danger

  • Rex's mom says:

    How old was Alex? I know parrots can live a very long time. I’ve seen him on TV and he was very smart. I am very sad to hear this bad news.