Wednesday, September 12, 2007


When I created this blog 2 days ago about pet birds I didn't consider that sometimes the latest news would be something sad. Today, news arrived ... very sad news. It breaks my heart to pass it along. It comes from Dr. Irene Pepperberg regarding Alex, her beloved African Grey who is the world's most famous African Grey Parrot and avian research subject extraordinaire.

It was announced today that Alex passed away last Friday; however, the announcement was delayed until today to allow his grieving human colleagues at Brandeis University time to deal with their shock and be able to talk about it. So far the cause of his death is unknown. An African Grey's average lifespan is 50 years. Dr. Pepperberg purchased Alex from a pet store in 1973 and he spent these last 30 years in her care as a research subject as well as dearly loved friend. I'm sure everyone can appreciate the devastation Dr. Pepperberg feels, as well as those of her colleagues who worked with Alex for 8-12 hours a day his entire life.

As bird lovers, most of us know all about Alex, so I won't digress into the facts of his amazing life. Other than to say Alex's accomplishments were legendary as researchers worked with him to better understand the avian brain. For example, he could count up to six including zero and last month pronounced the number seven for the first time. Recently, his continuing cognitive ability was demonstrated by the ability to take distinct sounds from words he knew and combine them to form new words. He also expressed his desires including frustration with repetitive research, as well as scolding two other African Greys at the research center to "talk better" when they mumbled.

"Alex" is the most popular name chosen by Grey Parrot owners in respect for Alex's accomplishments. In fact, my own African Grey was named Alex when I adopted her. Shortly, thereafter she was sexed and discovered to be a female. Keeping as close to "Alex" as I could, she was renamed Alice. I like to think of it as the female form of Alex. Alice calls herself "Allie" which reminds me daily of her original name so Alex is often in my thoughts. I like that.

We all owe a debt of gratitude to Alex and the dedicated work done with him. His advanced language and recognition skills have allowed us to have a better understanding of the avian brain. Perhaps Dr. Pepperberg's Thursday goodnight routine explains it best ... she told him it was time to go into his cage, and said to him "You be good, I love you. I'll see you tomorrow". Alex responded "you'll be in tomorrow".

Alex, no matter how many tomorrows remain for me, you'll always be upmost in my thoughts.


Phenix said...
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Shaws Pet Shop said...

Very sorry to hear about the loss of Alex.