In Memoriam

Panbanisha: 1985-2012

Panbanisha was a well-known bonobo chimpanzee raised by human teachers as part of a language research project directed by Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, psychologist and primatologist. Panbanisha was born on November 17, 1985 at the Language Research Center at Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia. She died at The Great Ape Trust in Desmoines, Iowa on November 6, 2012, just a few days before her 27th birthday.

Panbanisha at touchscreen
This is Panbanisha using the touchscreen computer to select lexigrams to communicate.

At the Language Research Center, Panbanisha and her equally famous half-brother, Kanzi, grew up learning to use and understand spoken language, as well as language symbols. Panbanisha and Kanzi learned to communicate using several hundred lexigrams, and also used a keyboard for those lexigrams.

We began to work with Panbanisha and Kanzi in the 1990’s, teaching them how to make stone tools. Panbanisha and Kanzi learned how to make sharp-edged stone tools by watching us demonstrate stone tool flaking techniques. Both apes were able to make stone flakes from cobbles of lava, quartzite, and flint, and then use those sharp-edged flakes to cut through roped containers and leather-covered drums to obtain food items. See Stone Tool Behavior in Modern Apes.

Panbanisha at touchscreen
Panbanisha is holding a picture card with an image of swans.

In 2005, Panbanisha, along with other apes at the Language Research Center, was moved to The Great Ape Trust, a new facility in DesMoines, Iowa. There, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh continued working with Panbanisha and Kanzi on language acquisition and vocal communication.

Besides working on communication skills, Panbanisha and Kanzi, were exposed to music and created melodic tunes ( on the keyboard. They had a musical jam session with famed rocker Peter Gabriel ( They even played piano with Paul McCartney.

In addition, Panbanisha was the inspiration for a 2010 book titled “Ape House” by Sara Gruen ( Gruen considered Panbanisha a friend.

Panbanisha gave birth to two males, Nyota and Nathan. Nyota is her only surviving offspring.

We will remember her good nature, her friendly personality, and her compassion for her offspring and her fellow apes.

Nicholas Toth and Kathy Schick,
Co-Directors, Stone Age Institute

Panbanisha, a bonobo chimpanzee