Among the rumors now leaking out of Afghanistan is a bizarre report of Taliban insurgents training monkeys and baboons to shoot at Coalition troops. Is it possible to do this?
Primate experts doubt that the story, which appeared in a Chinese newspaper, is possible. The story says that insurgents are using a reward-and-punishment system to train macaques and baboons to target soldiers wearing US military uniforms. According to the Chinese “People’s Daily,” the Taliban “taught monkeys how to use the Kalashnikov, Bren light machine gun and trench mortars.”
Psychologist William Mason points out that primates could be taught to pull a trigger and even aim at specific uniforms, but that doesn’t add up to the ability needed to aim and fire at targets on a battlefield. In LiveScience.com, Jeremy Hsu quotes Mason as saying, “They can be trained to do things like turn off lights and open faucets and so on, but eventually that breaks down. If we’re talking about animals going out into the field or a fortress with an AK-47 or whatever, it seems very, very implausible. The closest you could come plausibly [to using nonhuman primates] would be strapping explosives on an animal and sending it off. To give a monkey a complex device like a rifle and say ‘We’re going to train it to become a soldier’ is purely fantastical.”
Chimps and other nonhuman primates DO engage in wars of their own, over food, females and territory. But according to Mason, “The analogies almost always break down at some point.”
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