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There's another possible impact of the communication with these apes: These celebrity apes may help raise awareness of the plight of apes in the wild.

Shumaker said there is an estimated 10,000 to 50,000 bonobos left in the wild, and 50 - 55,000 orangutans in the wild, so raising awareness of just how smart these creatures are might encourage the public to take their problems more seriously.

"The research we conduct here powerfully informs people about the nature of great ape intelligence," Shumaker said. "We know that humans and great apes share far more than they differ. I think we have to recognize that. If that does not compel us to preserve great apes in the wild, I don't know what can."

The insight into ape learning might also give some insight into human development.

"It tells us about how we learn everything," said Fields, "what the antecedents are to the kind of powerful learning that could occur in humans."

Sometimes the similarities to humans are downright eerie. When I asked Kanzi if he wanted coffee, he enthusiastically shook his head up and down.

Bonobos share 98 percent of their DNA with humans -- they also apparently share a love of decaf caramel machiatos.

For more information contact the www.greatapetrust.org.

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