The Third Leader: Parrot fashion

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Farewell to a dead parrot. Alex, the prodigiously vocal African Grey, has fallen, if you and he will forgive me, off the perch suddenly at home, his two by three foot cage in an American university laboratory. He was 31.

Alex, assisted by Dr Irene Pepperberg, did much to combat the rampant parrotism which has judged the species capable only of parroting. Not for Alex the limitations of a one-legged pirate's shoulder and "pieces of eight, pieces of eight". He had that way with phrases like "good morning" and "I love you", but he had also mastered more than 100 words, and could use them to identify 50 different objects. Something of a pollymath, then.

He was expected to live until he was 50. What happened? He seemed well enough when Dr Pepperberg bade him goodnight, but was found dead the next morning.

He could be a touch demanding: "If he said: 'Wanna banana', but was offered a nut instead, he stared in silence, asked for the banana again, or took the nut and threw it at the researcher."

But laboratory staff were known to be devoted.

He was also bossy with the two younger parrots in the lab, Griff and Wart, often commanding them to "talk better", but they're not squawking.

I would suggest, just to cover all eventualities, that the cage is examined carefully to see if his ladder had been moved.

In the end, though, I wonder, despite Alex's lauded work in furthering our knowledge of his species and helping humans with language difficulties, whether, with another 20 years of it to come, he decided he had said enough.

Comments