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Story ran in Malibu Times, November 17, 2012

In the past month my colleagues around the globe have shared a remarkable mpeg and video highlighting the intelligence of animals, for example a singing whale and a talking elephant.

It should therefore be no surprise that baboons are also very intelligent since they share at least 95 percent genetic similarities with humans.

It turns out that baboons are helping educators understand the cause(s) of dyslexia. Dyslexia occurs when the brain does not recognize and process certain symbols, making learning to read very difficult.

Baboons recently left scientists spellbound as they correctly recognized written words. Baboons do not read, nor do they speak English or any other human language, but these primates are significantly smarter than scientists previously thought.

They were able to recognize writing on a computer screen, identify correctly most of the time which combination of letters are words, like ‘done’ or ‘vast,’ and which were not, i.e. ‘telk’ or ‘virt.’

The fact that baboons can distinguish one word from another is offering scientists insight into how people might read. Do people recognize words because of speech? Or does the human brain circuitry support other functions like a visual one?

This is exciting news for children and adults suffering from reading disabilities. As our close genetic kin, baboons are clearly showing educators that dyslexia may very well be more of a visual processing disorder rather than a problem matching sounds and letters.

Please support the work of Dr. Shirley Strum (UC San Diego) and her project BaboonsRUs. She is protecting three troops of baboons on the eastern Laikipia Plateau, Kenya, and needs our help.

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Earth Dr Reese Halter is an award-winning broadcaster and distinguished biologist. His latest books are The Insatiable Bark Beetle and The Incomparable Honeybee

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Text © by Dr Reese Halter 2012. All rights reserved.


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