Washington Post headline, September 4, 2015: “Chimp That Attacked a Drone with a Stick Planned Ahead, Researchers Say”
Classified report, September 20, 2015: Venue: Secure location, the Netherlands; translation of interview with damaged drone aircraft, performed by unidentified security official:
Security Official: It's been five months. In your own words, describe what happened.
Damaged Drone: In my own words? Okay, in my own words, one of the chimps picked up a big stick and whacked me like I was a piñata and he was in candy withdrawal.
SO: Actually it was a female chimp that took you down. Named Tushi.
SO: Tushi. Yah. Okay, let's back up. Tell me how you came to be in the chimp enclosure.
DD: It was April 10th. In Arnhem. My team was at the Royal Burgers' Zoo in Arnhem. We were supposed to shoot video of the chimps for the zoo. They're in a big enclosure. You could play the World Cup final in there. The producers wanted me to get overhead shots and from unusual angles, they said.
SO: Were you made aware that this chimp population has lived at the zoo since 1971 and is renowned for being the subject matter for studies of social behavior and tool use, including tool use “rarely if [ever] seen in the wild”?
DD: No, nobody told me that.
SO: Yes, that's according to a scientific paper about the incident, published online September 3rd by the journal Primates. Written by the famous primatologist Jan van Hooff, who's been studying this population since the 1970s, and Bas Lukkenaar, the zoo official who was supervising the shoot.
DD: Lukkenaar got a paper out of it?
SO: They titled it: “Captive Chimpanzee Takes Down a Drone: Tool Use toward a Flying Object.” Anyway, so there you were—flying over.
DD: I made a trial run, no camera, and there were willow branches on the ground.
SO: Yes, the chimps get willow branches as treats. It's in the paper. They peel off the bark and eat the soft lining. Then the branches are there for them to play with.
DD: To play with. Yeah. Well, as I started flying, some of the chimps grabbed willow branches. To play with. And four chimps began climbing scaffolding on the side of the enclosure where I was hovering. I didn't think anything of it. Then I started a flight at 10 to 15 meters up, with the camera on. Chimps were quiet. Two of them were, oh, about five meters up on that scaffolding still.
SO: Tushi, born in that colony in 1992, and another female, Raimee, born there in 1999.
DD: Okay. So Tushi, it must have been, moves in my direction. In her left hand, she's carrying a willow branch about as long as she is. I got in closer. And she swings that thing at me, misses once and then smack. “I'm hit!” I thought, and then I augered in.
SO: You kept shooting.
DD: It was reflex. Hey, I'm a reflex camera.
SO: Let me read to you from the Primates paper: “The camera also caught some footage of inquisitive faces of chimpanzees as they inspected and moved this strange contraption.”
DD: Yes! I remember thinking, “Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape,” but to be honest, the paws weren't really stinking, and the ape wasn't particularly dirty.
SO: The scientific paper concludes that “the sequence of events is highly suggestive of an interpretation of the use of the stick as a planned, deliberate action to ‘attack’ the drone (agonistically motivated) or ‘find out about’ the drone (curiosity motivated).”
DD: All the same to me, pal.
SO: Lemme ask you. Amateurs, humans, are flying their drones near airports. You think patrol chimps could help protect commercial aviation?
DD: Go watch King Kong and tell me what you think. Forget typewriters and Hamlet. Give chimps an infinite number of willow branches and high enough scaffolding, and eventually you'll have the world's safest airport.