The Ape and the Sushi Master

de Waal, Frans. The Ape and the Sushi Master: Cultural Reflections of a Primatologist. New York: Basic Books, 2001.

Reason read: October is gorilla month.

Frans de Waal believes in the possibility that animals have culture. In the beginning of his book he spends some time talking about how we, as humans, apply human emotion to animals. He uses the example of Binti Jua, the ape at the Chicago zoo who “saved” and protected the little boy back in 1996. He couldn’t comment on the incident at the Cincinnati zoo when Harambe was shot dead for fear of purposefully drowning a child. What would he have said about that? As an aside, I admit I am guilty of applying emotion to animal behavior. When my cat Cassidy went missing I swore her “brother” missed her. Do I know that for fact? No. But, he did act strangely for the duration of her absence so I would like to think he did.
But, back to the point. Do animals have cultural instinct that they follow? Do they learn by copying others? Is habit passed down from one generation to another?

My only pet peeve? I felt as if part of The Ape and the Sushi Master was a plug for Bonobo: the Forgotten Ape, another book written by de Waal. He spent a great deal of time in Ape/Sushi referring back to the sexuality of bonobos discussed in Bonobo. As they say, sex sells so I have to wonder how many people looked up this other book after reading Ape.

Lines to grab my attention: “As someone who occasionally forgets where he has parked an item as large and as significant as his car, I am impressed by these peanut-brained birds” (p 58).

Author fact: At the time of publication, Frans de Waal was a professor at Emory University.

Book trivia: The Ape and the Sushi Master has great illustrations as well as photographs.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Our Primates, Ourselves” (p ). As an aside, I think Pearl took the chapter title, “Our Primates, Ourselves” straight from a Ape and the Sushi Master quote. Early on de Waal says his book is “about how we see animals, how we see ourselves, and the nature of culture” (p 6).

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