A genius African grey parrot, Arthur, one of the key participants in the studies on avian intelligence and communication conducted by the Alex Foundation, has passed away at age 14. The distressing rumors were floating around recently, but they have now been confirmed on the Alex Foundation Facebook page.
The work of Dr. Irene Pepperberg and the Alex Foundation began when an approximately one-year-old pet store African grey parrot, Alex, was purchased in Chicago. Even though he was what Pepperberg has called an “off-the-shelf” parrot, her techniques to communicate with Alex allowed him to participate in intelligence studies that continued for over 30 years. He could speak English, use a simplified grammar, answer questions, and identify numbers and colors.
He died suddenly at the age of 31, leading to an outpouring of grief all over the world. Even the normally stodgy British publication, The Economist, carried his obituary — unheard of for any animal, let alone a parrot. His younger lab partners, Arthur and Griffin, were left behind to carry on his work.
Now, at the age of 14, Arthur has died of Avian Bornavirus (ABV), a condition that is always fatal but which can be carried unnoticed for many years. It isn’t known how he got the disease.
In Pepperberg’s popular book about her work, Alex and Me, she said that Arthur was purchased from a breeder when he was about a year old. He was a bit clumsy compared to her other greys, because of an accident that damaged his foot. He was allowed to fly to help him balance, and his playful mannerisms earned him the nickname of “Wart” — the same nickname that the mythical magician Merlin gave to his student, the future King Arthur.
One of her lab students, Ben Resner, told Pepperberg that they felt as if they were in competition with the mischevious bird. She wrote, “the students told me they felt as if Wart was saying, Hey, give me a real problem. This one is too easy for a smart bird like me.”
According to his photo page on the Alex Foundation website, of all the words he learned, his favorite was “tickle.”
Wildlife Guardian has posted a featured video at detailing the research into these amazing avian brains which you can see at YouTube.
The work will continue. Fortunately, tests show that Griffin, the remaining genius African grey parrot who works in the lab, is free of the virus.
[photo of Congo African grey parrot by L.Miguel Bugallo Sánchez and Wikipedia Commons]