Farewell to Alex


An acquaintance of mine died last week, and I just found out about it. Alex, Irene Pepperberg’s African grey parrot, is dead at the age of 31. There’s no particular cause that has been identified for his death, and he was pretty much just approaching middle age for an African grey. Alex is best known for being the primary subject in Pepperberg’s research on animal cognition, and especially non-human cognitive psychology, explored through Alex’s ability to communicate through spoken English.

More on the Austringer.


Alex is the famous one, but how many other parrots have been trained similarly in order to study cognition in birds, Wes?

I know that there were two others in Pepperberg’s lab at the University of Arizona. IIRC, the Rogan article mentions two other parrots in the lab at Brandeis in 2004. I think the total number is relatively small, but on the other hand, I think that non-human cognitive psychology studies of the sort that Pepperberg has done are not in the high funding priority categories like molecular biology and all sorts of pharmaceutical-relevant biochemistry. Organismal biology is a tough sell these days. So I hope people do follow the link to the Alex Foundation and lend a hand.

Shelley Batts of Retrospectacle at ScienceBlogs probably can give a better number than I can. She actually studied with Pepperberg, and would have a more thorough acquaintance with the state of the field.

Organismal biology is a tough sell these days.

don’t I know it, brother.

I think fish behavior might be an even tougher sell than bird behavior, if that’s possible.

She actually studied with Pepperberg

neat! that must have been interesting. I’ll check that out, thanks.

I’ve always been hoping that there would be more replication of some of these studies. However, I can only imagine how difficult and time consuming it is to even set up one subject like this, let alone multiple.

I gained a bit of an interest in animal cognition and behavior when I was a grad student at Berkeley, as Steve Glickman was one of my advisors at the time. The hyena behavior was fascinating, but the training regimens were long and tedious.

I also spent some time working with Peter Klimly up in Bodega once upon a time, and he showed me some of the techniques he used to train sharks, and even that was a very time consuming process.

of course you’ve spent much time trying to train birds yourself, eh?

if only falcons could talk…

I wonder - did Alex leave behind some offspring?

he showed me some of the techniques he used to train sharks, and even that was a very time consuming process.

Are you sure?

Sharks with lazers

yeah, have you ever seen what goes into the proper training of laser-equipped sharks?

mind numbing.

My sincere condolences!

A New York Times obituary:


Kind regards, apollo230

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This page contains a single entry by Wesley R. Elsberry published on September 13, 2007 9:31 PM.

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