When: Tue., Nov. 30, 4 p.m. 2010
Irene Pepperberg bought Alex the gray parrot from a pet shop in 1977 and set out to study his cognitive abilities at a time when the scientific community was dismissive of claims of animal intelligence.The first paper she submitted to the journal Nature was rejected without being reviewed, but over the course of research, Alex proved able to identify a wide range of objects, count them and tell their color, shape and composition, completely upending conventional views on the limits of animal thought and communication. Alex could also communicate his needs, asking for his favorite foods, or a tickle or to go back to his cage when he was tired of working.
He had an abundance of personality, and during their 30 years working together, Pepperberg came to see him as a colleague, and even as a close friend. When he died suddenly in 2007 at the age of 31, Pepperberg was "torn by grief," she says in her book Alex and Me, published in paperback last year. Especially touching is her memory of his final words to her, the night before he was found dead in his cage: "You be good, see you tomorrow. I love you." Pepperberg will present a talk titled "The Search for King Solomon's Ring: Cognitive and Communication Studies on Grey Parrots" in the Nelson Music Room on Duke's East Campus at 4 p.m. The talk, sponsored by Duke's women's studies department, is free and open to the public. —Marc Maximov