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In Dedication To Alex
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In Dedication to Alex

In Dedication to The Einstein of parrots, Alex (a Congo African Grey). The subject of Dr. Irene Pepperberg was Alex. She is a scientist who studies animal psychology. Alex which is the acronym for Avian Learning EXperiment, because it was a touchy subject with scientific community his name changed to Avian Learning EXperiment. Dr. Pepperberg was originally at the University of Arizona, then Harvard University and on to Brandeis University.

Dr. Pepperberg purchased Alex at a pet store in Chicago when Alex was about a year old. Parrots were thought to only mimic words and not that intelligent. With Alex’s accomplishments it set a precedent that parrots may be able to reason to use words creatively and on a basic level. Alex’s intelligence was that of a dolphin or simian (primate). He had the intelligence of a five year old and the emotional needs of a two year old. When he died he had not reached his full potential with his intelligence.

The scientific task that was used to teach Alex was process of interacting for the desired behavior. With these teaching practices he would learn and distinguish the concepts of smaller, bigger, different and same. He could identify objects and the quantities of no more than 6. Alex would make a situation less stressful when the researcher seemed upset, Alex would say “I am sorry.” If Alex asked for a banana and given a nut he would display dissatisfaction and ask for the banana again and he was given a nut, he would throw it, typical parrot stubbornness.

With the research he could give correct answers roughly 80% of the time. He understood communication when each person took a turn in speaking and the order of words. When Dr. Pepperberg and her associates would make a mistake Alex would correct them. When Alex was asked “What color three?” expecting the answer to be a distinct color that he was asked before, he would give the wrong answer as he had become bored. It proposed that like children, parrots would also get bored. Alex would willfully give the wrong answer, even though he knew the correct answer. He had the cognizance of the concept of you and I. He understood the notion of zero as he would answer “None” if there was no difference between objects. Like human perception Alex's perception of optical illusions were comparable.

There were many more things we could have learned from Alex with his death we will never know. The loss of Alex will not prevent the research to stop but is an enormous hindrace to the research Dr. Pepperberg was doing. On September 6, 2007 Alex passed away at the age of 31. His death it was a complete surprise as he had his annual physical about two weeks prior and was found to be in good health. The doctor did a necropsy and found there to be no obvious signs of death.

The pathology results were posted on October 4 by The Alex Foundation. Alex had died quickly. Alex’s test from his physical showed his cholesterol level and asper levels normal. His death was associated with arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). He died suddenly and he did not have any pain or suffering. The veterinarian said that she had seen similar deaths in young (less than 10 year old) parrots that were on healthy diets and his death could not be connected to his age or his current diet. It could have been genetics or the same kind of low-level inflammatory disease (that is impossible to detect in parrots as of yet) but that is associated to heart disease in humans and it was culpable in his death.

The instant fame and popularity Alex brought to the African Grey parrot and was often the subject of television programs. The Einstein created the reason why everyone wanted an African Grey, in the same manner that children wanted a Dalmatian dog following the famous Disney movie.

The last words to Dr. Pepperberg that Alex said were “You be good. I love you.” You can learn more about about Alex’s accomplishments or the current studies on his predecessors, Arthur and Griffin. May he sleep with the angels and rest in peace.


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