African grey parrots are popular for their friendly nature and speech-mimicking abilities. However, their abilities go far beyond copying what they hear. The African grey is one of the most intelligent animals on the planet, and their walnut-sized brains have cognitive abilities closer to humans than other birds. This was proven to the world by Dr. Irene Pepperberg and her parrot Alex, and the former chronicled their thirty-year bond in the memoir Alex and Me.
Pepperberg had expressed her groundbreaking scientific study in a book called The Alex Studies, but Alex and Me eloquently tells the personal side of their story. The little bird showed incredible intelligence, memorizing over a hundred words and distinguishing objects by color, number, size, and shape. But Alex's most impressive skills were those he acquired on his own. He independently learned how to apologize in order to defuse Pepperberg's bad moods, and called an apple a "banerry" (a combination between "banana" and "cherry") without knowing its name. Pepperberg had more faith in the intelligence of African grey parrots than anyone else in the scientific community, but even she was consistently shocked by Alex's accomplishments.
But the most important declaration in Alex and Me is of Pepperberg's love for the little bird. During their time together, Pepperberg always maintained some scientific distance from Alex, so her studies wouldn't be affected by her emotions. But she became close to him during their thirty-year partnership, and was devastated following his untimely death. At times, Pepperberg speaks of Alex more like a person than a parrot, and it's easy to see why. He had incredible emotional depth in addition to his brain power, which showed every time he interacted with people. He could be bossy, sulky, and standoffish, but he was more often energetic, kindly, and eager to take in all life had to offer. He even helped the other African grey parrots in the study, serving as a mentor of sorts for their own tests (as long as they didn't forget that he was Pepperberg's favorite). The night before he died, he told Pepperberg "You be good, I love you"-- haunting words, indicating that he knew his time was coming and wanted his owner to know how he felt.
Alex and Me is strongly recommended to any and all readers, as proof that intellectual depth and beauty isn't limited to homo sapiens.
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About the author:
A freelance writer/cartoonist living in LA, with my fiance' and our wonderful cat. You can see my work at www.rubysworldcomic.com and rubynation.smackjeeves.com