Liz communicates with Kanzi using lexigrams

Liz Rubert-Pugh is a scientist and researcher who has worked with the bonobos for over 30 years, first at Georgia State University’s Language Research Center and now at Bonobo Hope at the Great Ape Trust. Raising almost all of the bonobo family from birth has given her the unique experience of  seeing the bonobos develop an understanding how to interpret and respond to symbols – much the same as human children do as they are acquiring language.

Her close relationships with the bonobos, combined with her skill at photography and videography, have enabled her to do the important work of documenting the intellectual and physical growth of the bonobos over many years. When outside researchers and reporters are allowed into the facilities, Liz enables them to achieve good results by using her ability to communicate to both species and teaching visitors how to interpret subtle body language and other physical cues appropriately.

Liz is generous with her knowledge and shares her experiences with scientists, students and communities through lectures and teaching. Most recently, Rubert-Pugh lent her expertise to the Drake University supported RaySociety learning organization. Alongside Savage-Rumbaugh she taught a course entitled ‘Origin of Species: Alternatives to Darwinism’ that focused on the questions of the origins of human thought, intelligence and creativity.

Rubert-Pugh reflects on her years working with the bonobos and her continuing battle with cancer:

“My life’s work has been based on participating in non-invasive language research with bonobos and chimpanzees, who share nearly 99% of their DNA with humans. I work with Panbanisha, a 25 year old female bonobo, who uses an electronic keyboard with ‘words’ in a language called Yerkish on it to communicate with me. Panbanisha is altering our relationship with the gift of language, taking it to a truly higher level.”

“Since the discovery of my brain tumor (gliosarcoma grade 4), in August 2008, and subsequent surgeries, all of the bonobos that I work with at Bonobo Hope have shown tender compassion and attentive care to my scars. Their concern, along with the incredible support from family, friends and the wonderful medical support I have received, have led me down a path of tranquility.”