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Fu Manchu

Monday, January 25, 2010 - 09:00 PM

Orangutan Orangutan (belgianchocolate/flickr/CC-BY-2.0)

In our episode Animal Minds, we asked whether it was possible for one animal to know what was going on in another animal's mind. For us, it was a really about whether we, as humans, can really share a meaningful moment with an animal. In this podcast, we take that question another step further.

Can an animal know what's in our heads so well that they can manipulate and deceive us? To answer that question, reporter Ben Calhoun takes us back to the 1960s to tell the story of a showdown between zookeeper Jerry Stones and a wily orangutan named Fu Manchu. Then, to help us get a grip on the science behind animals and deception, Ben talks to primatologist and orangutan expert Rob Shumaker of the Indianapolis Zoo.

Sorry photo is not actually Fu Manchu.


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Comments [36]

risa m mandell from Ambler, PA USA

how unjust and cruel to imprison animals - may all zoos be transformed into sanctuaries and all being be left in what remains of their natural habitats.

Oct. 09 2016 08:01 PM
Arthur B Kells from Florida

This podcast was extremely interesting because it shows the intelligence of an animal other than that of a human. People often like to think that we are by far the most intelligent species, but animals such as orangutangs can do extraordinary things, such as making a key out of hidden wire. Hopefully we can explore the intelligence of other animals further in the future, since it is such an intriguing topic.

Apr. 14 2015 07:36 AM
Ender J Hayden from Florida

This NPR was very interesting. I found it extraordinary how animals can deceive us in everyday life. Fu Manchu was very crafty in how he opened the door, and how he escaped. I find it interesting that he did that, just to escape, or was there another reason he wanted to leave? This was very cool that animals can do these things and deceive even humans as to what they are doing.

Apr. 12 2015 11:39 AM
Edgar D. Havisham from Kazakstan

Fu Man Chu was really interesting because it discussed the behavior of animals and how they can adapt to situations to make them to their advantage. The orangutan created a key with a wire that has been in his mouth to get out of his cage. That is just truly amazing to me. Although it is not proven to be a given factor in the orangutans mind it is still truly remarkable the capability that it holds.

Apr. 06 2015 10:43 PM
Gertrude N. Poe from Florida

The story of Fu Manchu is incredible, the way animals think is beyond our capacity. I believe that animals really are smarter than we give them credit for, Fu Manchu is just one prime example. Not only did he have the intelligence to make a key, but was able to deceive all of the zookeepers. Orangutan's are fascinating creatures, and shouldn't be looked down on. It's amazing what animals are capable of, every story that I hear of different animals acting smarter or more loving than humans, never ceases to amaze me every time. I love this story, but it also terrifies me...

Jan. 19 2015 08:26 PM
Keats A. Dunbar from Florida

I really liked this story a lot. At first I only picked it because it was one of the shorter ones, but after finishing it I'm glad i chose this one. Animals are a big part of a lot of people's lives and it's always funny to hear stories of what some of these creatures are able to accomplish. I think a lot of the time we undermine their abilities because we just think of them as lower than us. You go Fu Manchu!

Jan. 19 2015 08:22 PM
Russell from Montana

When thinking about an animal purposefully deceiving a human it reminded me of my late dog, Mia. I would not consider her an overly smart dog, she knew a few tricks but nothing out of the norm (sit, lay, rollover), but one day our neighbors revealed to us an ingenious habit.
So, my school was within walking distance of the house so I walked to school everyday, weather permitting. One day Mia followed me, without my knowledge, and got into the school and caused quite a ruckus. I was asked to take her back home which seemed normal until I got back to my house none of the gates were open, which is how I had guessed she had gotten out. After school that day, when I arrived home, she was still in the backyard like always. My backyard was surrounded by about four foot high chain link fence and with my dog only being about sixteen inches we figured that would hold her. It was a mystery to myself and my family how she had escaped. Time past and we forgot about the incident at the school. Then one day my parents were talking to our elderly neighbors and they made a comment about how Mia was out everyday. Everyday??? With further questioning we found out that she had been jumping/climbing over the fence shortly after everyone had left the house for the day and before we arrived home she would jump/climb back into the yard like nothing had happened. She had learned our daily schedules and taken advantage to roam the neighborhood, while pulling the curtain over all of our eyes. Who knows how long this would have continued if it weren't for our retired neighbors letting us know about her deceptive way.

Thought this might be interesting insight in deception of humans by animals.

Dec. 16 2014 06:03 PM

Anyone seen the RSA Animation regarding mirror neurons and how they were discoveredk

Sep. 03 2013 08:41 PM

Anyone seen the RSA Animation regarding mirror neurons and how they were discovered?

Sep. 03 2013 10:54 AM
Dan from USA

Interesting story, but I don't like how it was told. The music put into it and the DJ cutting in continuing the story like he was there, I find it kind of annoying. Making comments is fine, but just let the guy tell the story!

Sep. 03 2012 07:19 AM

Le le le le le.

Sep. 03 2012 12:22 AM
retard from denmark

the female narrator sounded like a retard

Sep. 02 2012 11:30 PM

Fu manchu has a Fat Face of Course He can put a key in his Face or his mouth

Mar. 11 2012 07:46 PM
Damien from Paris

To me it is not necessarily Deception.
I mean Fu might value this tools and wants to keep it with him, it's like he has pocket.
Isn't common for animals to put something in one's mouth to carry it ? Especially as the guards made a point about cleaning the area making it a requirement to carry the tool

Apr. 12 2011 03:23 PM
Cynthia Card from Houston

I believe our family dog, Fuzzy (the best dog ever in the whole world) practiced the art of deception. I was dog sitting for a family and would take Fuzzy the four blocks to their home, picked up their dog, Dino and take them both for a long walk. Afterwards, as I was feeding Dino, Fuzzy would play with Dino's toys and was reluctant to put the toy down when we got ready to go home. A girlfriend and I walked together one day, took both dogs for a walk and headed back home with Fuzzy. We were almost home when my friend asked "What is the matter with Fuzzy?" Fuzzy was walking stiff legged and holding her head down. I picked her up and she kept tucking her chin back away from me. Then I could see it - she had curled one of Dino's toys in her mouth and back under her beard. That was four decades ago. I still smile anytime I think of Fuzzy - she really was the best dog ever, except for yours, of course

Dec. 21 2010 09:52 AM
MICHIE from san francisco

Just proves the point that zoos are quite humane. These poor animals must feel like they are in a jail. sad!

Nov. 17 2010 01:49 PM

I have a 16 year old sulphur crested cockatoo named Abby. We've had her since she was a baby. She has free rein of our house. Her way of attempting deceit is by carrying an object that she knows she IS allowed to have (toy, bottle cap, coin) over to an object that she IS NOT allowed to have (usually a shoe carelessly on the floor, but she has tried for other taboo things, too). She will stand next to the forbidden object and proceed to "play" with "her toy", all while keeping an eye on me and my husband. When she sees that we are engrossed in the TV (or whatever else we may be doing), she'll place "her toy" on top of the shoe, & keeping the top part of her beak on the toy, she'll proceed to chew on the shoe with the lower half of her beak - concealing what she's really doing - tearing up the shoe.
When she's discovered (& hollered at), she'll pull away from the shoe, & very vigorously "play" with "her toy", flipping it over the top of her head, throwing it, etc. all while looking at us as if to say "Oh... just playing with my toy - move along - nothing to see here!" She's done this same act countless times.
She's just as smart & as sneaky as any 2 year old human child.

Oh, and she's a great dancer too!!

Sep. 13 2010 06:00 PM
Steve W.

Delightful story, well told Radiolab. I would love to know what role the other Orang's had in these capers. Were they in the moat when Fu Manchu was jimmying the lock? Were they merely innocent followers of Fu Manchu or "lookouts" for the gang (I like to think so). We will never know it seems.

I think it interesting that such a powerful animal would go back to captivity meekly after having worked so hard for freedom. Also he seems to have allowed the keepers to search his mouth and give up his precious "key" without much fuss.

May. 03 2010 05:27 PM

I think it was in this episode of Nature, Clever Monkeys (, that there was footage of a monkey deceiving other monkeys, in order to obtain food.

Apr. 15 2010 12:53 AM

It is difficult to discuss, subjectively, the relationship between humans and animals, due to the vast array of beliefs tied into the subject.

Human beings, I think, are defined by their ability to reflect. Obviously we cannot rule out this behavior in ANY animal, because what we know about anything in general is limited to comparison of assumption and observation, which in itself is not clear, much like this sentence. However, I think that we are unique in the ability to examine our own thoughts, question our own actions, and physically, literally, and metaphorically change who we are (for whatever "who we are" really means). It is my opinion that animals can only be changed by external influence, whether it be natural (environmental, and genetic elements included), or purposefully inflicted. Again, an opinion. I have no facts to back that up (in my opinion there is no such thing as fact - but that's a different story).

My point is, the distinction between animal and human is entirely based on theory and observation. Great amounts of quantitative data, experiences, lots of tedious hours of observation have been processed with no more of an outcome than we started with. We still only have theory.

How an animal is treated cannot be collectively justified in the end. I would love to say that no one wants to see anything, human or animal, suffer. But that is simply not true. I am reminded of "rubberneckers" on the highway, urged to catch a glimpse of a horrifying bloody wreck. Or on-lookers of a man contemplating suicide at the top of a 30 story building. You can't tell me that at least half of those people aren't secretly trying to suppress their thoughts of "jump" "jump". And that's focused toward the human race.

Because survival is so hardwired in our brains, we will most likely, ALWAYS justify the way we treat animals in an effort to better understand ourselves. That is who we are; Self aware citizens of this planet, with an unbreakable urge to survive. And because survival is so ingrained into all of our lives (what all animals and even one celled organisms have in common) I'm sure, if the tables were turned, there would be no difference in the treatment of each other.

And this is why this topic cannot be subjectively discussed. It opens a vast array of questions about right or wrong, purpose of life, whether or not there is a purpose. But we remain in a purgatory of bias theory via the perspective of a species that, like all others, which is determined to survive.

Feb. 15 2010 07:06 PM

Nice story. I think the more interesting question, as far as animal intelligence goes, is not: are they like us? I want to know, qualitatively, in what way are they DIFFERENT? What, if anything, can a tiger brain accomplish that humans don't - and perhaps can't - do? What does non-human intelligence mean? What is it like to be a grey whale? Or a bat? I doubt human intelligence is a meaningful yardstick to measure octopus behavior against. If our cognitive evolution has given us a very specific set of strengths, why aren't we asking what the alternative pathways are?

Feb. 10 2010 04:58 PM

is this the actual Fu Manchu?
Taken in 2009 but I think from another photo?

Feb. 07 2010 09:00 PM

Love love love your show. All thru Animal Minds — (but you got a lot closer in the Fu story) I felt you missed a more expansive point — rather than can we know animal minds, I feel we should explore the concept of "animals as persons". Rather than a black and white dead end scenario where we say - we cannot know what's inside an animal, we ask, is there enough personality here to warrant consideration as a person. This all clicked for me a few years ago when that gorilla saved the child that fell into the enclosure by taking him to the keeper's door. I've always called Golden Retrievers "such nice people." People tell me horses all have different personalities. We know animals have intelligence and personality. IN the past and even today, some members of our own race have denied person status to other humans.... and we believe it's wrong. Well - let's widen that concept. If we take a benevolent view, and are willing to give at least some animal-person-beings the benefit of the doubt, will we not see our world as richer and more wonderfully diverse with all these persons..? Is that not good? More importantly, is that not right? Especially using the Golden Rule? Why is there this line in the sand that excludes these thinking beings from a more respectful status....? Love to hear a show about animals as persons. Thanks for making me think and informing me on such a wide landscape of topics. Your production values and story-telling are the best I've encountered on any podcast.

Feb. 05 2010 01:41 PM
Kathy Orlinsky

@ Connor

You probably already picked this up from listening again, but it wasn't the secretly opening the door that was such compelling evidence of deception, but the fact that Fu Manchu hid his key from the keepers.

The more I learn about animals, the more I think Peter Singer is on to something.

Feb. 05 2010 02:27 AM

Not at all surprised by Fu's brother swears that the pigs he once worked with on some research he was doing learned to open the door of their pen. Actually one learned how and "taught" the others how to get out! This is and the previous show about animal minds is amazing.

Feb. 02 2010 12:52 PM

The comment about how there's no official proof of non-human animals engaging in deception caught my attention. Haven't official studies shown that dogs are capable of deception too? I've heard it mentioned in articles like this one, from the Telegraph:

Being popular media, they don't give any details beyond "Professor Coren said: 'Dogs can tell that one plus one should equal two and not one or three. They can also deliberately deceive, which is something that young children only start developing later in their life.'"

(I'm of the personal opinion that the majority of Kingdom Animalia is living a rich and complicated intellectual life right below our noses, but I can be patient with the need for scientific proof to make it all official.)

Jan. 29 2010 12:21 PM
Patrick Beard

There may be an actual picture of Fu Manchu on this blog:

Jan. 28 2010 05:01 PM
Marc McAllister

Wanted to share a story regarding Orangutans and their ability to deceive. When I was a teen I rode my bike to the St Louis zoo. There the animals were in deep pits and you observed them from above behind a low concrete wall. The Orangutan had picked a sympathetic human and was crouching down looking pitiful and reaching up toward this man who finally reached down toward him. In an instant the ape had leaped up surprisingly high, grabbed the mans arm, climbed him and was over the wall and making his escape. He had totally played the guy. The zookeeper said he had used this trick repeatedly. and they were redesigning the cage. Smart creatures that totally understand human nature.

Jan. 27 2010 05:12 PM

Sorry to make my first Radiolab post a cliche, but who was the artist that did the guitar piece during the closing of this episode?

Jan. 27 2010 04:57 PM

where to even begin, shame on us, self-styled "higher" species, on our arrogance, on our colossal sense of self importance. what is it exactly that makes us "higher," our capacity for indescribable physical, intellectual and spiritual violence towards our own and other species, or is there some other redeeming feature, perhaps our willful inability to see the forest for parsing the trees? if there is anything that separates us from the other denizens of this planet it is probably our continued benighted insistence on being better than. thank you radio lab, both animal minds and fu manchu were fantastic podcasts. keep up the good work; maybe there is hope for us yet.

Jan. 27 2010 03:30 AM

Cool story. Also, that picture of Fu Manchu is fantastic

Jan. 26 2010 11:56 AM

“Humans—who enslave, castrate, experiment on, and fillet other animals—have had an understandable penchant for pretending animals do not feel pain. A sharp distinction between humans and ‘animals’ is essential if we are to bend them to our will, make them work for us, wear them, eat them—without any disquieting tinges of guilt or regret.

“It is unseemly of us, who often behave so unfeelingly toward other animals, to contend that only humans can suffer. The behavior of other animals renders such pretensions specious. They are just too much like us.”

Dr. Carl Sagan & Dr. Ann Druyan, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, 1992

Jan. 26 2010 11:54 AM
Connor Walsh

I listened on headphones on a busy street, so I might have missed some point – and my apologies if this is answered in the podcast: what's seen as making this sort of deception any more than a technique necessary in hunting and survival? For example, moving when the keepers wouldn't see them – is that not like avoiding predators in the wild? They had bitten the keepers on occasion, after all.
Actually, I think I've found an excuse to go back and listen to both the animal minds an deceptions episodes again. Yay!

Jan. 26 2010 07:34 AM

Was able to complete a download. If there's still trouble, rehosted on mediafire:

Jan. 26 2010 02:18 AM

Yes, there are problems downloading the podcast. It goes very slowly and keeps timing out. Unfortunately this is not unusual in my experience.

Jan. 26 2010 12:57 AM
Tom Rhoads

I'm having trouble downloading from here and from iTunes. Anyone else having problems?

Jan. 25 2010 11:07 PM

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