In his lifetime Alex, the African Grey parrot, had become more widely acclaimed than many Hollywood celebrities. To millions of people across the globe he was the icon for animal intelligence. He and his human counterpart, Dr. Irene Pepperberg were among the great partners in the field of animal-behavior science research.
I have often heard comments from nonbelievers that Alex was only imitating or that he was taught for eight hours a day, but Arlene Levin-Rowe, Dr. Pepperberg’s lab manager of ten years told me that wasn’t so. Alex’s training sessions were no longer than 20 minutes at a time, two to four times a day. They often used a training technique called modeling/rivaling where Dr. Pepperberg and her interns would ask and answer questions about objects in front of Alex.
By the end, Alex knew the names of 50 objects and could describe their shapes, colors and materials from which they were made. He could even answer questions about those objects’ properties. He understood and could discuss the concepts of bigger, smaller, same and different; and could count up to six including zero. Alex also knew how to ask for what he wanted and he was not shy about making his wants known.
On what was to be the last night Dr. Pepperberg would be able to spend with him, she said goodnight on her way out the door just as she had done every night for the past 31 years. “You be good,” said Alex, “I love you.”
“I love you too,” was Dr. Pepperberg’s reply.
“You’ll be in tomorrow?,” Alex asked.
“I’ll be in tomorrow,” she answered.
But that next morning Arlene had just parked her car when her cell phone rang. It was Dr. Pepperberg telling Arlene that she had been told there was a dead bird in the lab. “I ran to the lab and just broke down. Then Irene got there and we were crying together,” Arlene said. “We knew we had to write a news release but somehow the word had already gotten out. All of a sudden I was getting flooded with emails and phone calls from people offering condolences or wanting interviews. It was one of the worst experiences of my life. All I wanted to do was crawl into a hole and cry but there wasn’t time. Alex was so loved all over the world.”
The Movie: Life with Alex
Now, as a tribute, with real scenes captured on video, Arlene has produced a documentary DVD memoir called ‘Life with Alex’ in association with The Alex Foundation and directed by Emily Wick.
It has recently been released by Grey Parrot Studios and already is the 2013 winner of the Best Documentary Film in the New Jersey Film Festival. It was selected for the upcoming Animal Film Festival.
Whereas the popular book “Alex & Me” (Harper Collins) details the relationship between Dr. Pepperberg and Alex from Dr. Peppergerg’s point of view, “Life with Alex” offers an up-close glimpse into Alex’s world, with never-before-released footage of Alex using meaningful human speech to convey his daily thoughts and feelings. Viewers see Alex and his colleagues — Dr. Irene Pepperberg, Arlene Levin-Rowe, their student assistants, and fellow Grey parrots Griffin and Arthur — as they open a window into an unprecedented world of non-human cognition and learning.
Dr. Irene Pepperberg has spent the past 35 years studying parrot intelligence. Curious about how non-human brains work and what different creatures think about their world, she chose to work with African Grey parrots, because they could use elements of human language. “Getting into the minds of these animals is critical,” explains Dr. Pepperberg. Her main subject was Alex, purchased in 1977 from an ordinary pet store in Chicago. In the 30 years they worked together, Dr. Pepperberg and her feathered “colleague” showed a frequently disbelieving world that parrots were not the bird-brains many thought they were.
The highlight of the film, of course, is Alex. Whether saying goodnight to Irene (“You be good, I love you.”), coaching fellow parrot Griffin, or creating his own vocabulary, we see Alex’s mind in action. We learn about the daily life, relationships, and accomplishments of the bird who changed forever what we know about how animals think.
Dr. Pepperberg discusses her discoveries and her fight for credibility; we discover what she learned from Alex, and how she learned it. As Dr. Pepperberg notes, “We share the world with these creatures” and “We need to understand them.”
One of Arlene’s goals was “to share what it’s like to work every day with an animal who can speak.” As viewers watch Arlene describe her 10 years as lab manager, they will come to appreciate why this amazing bird’s “colleagues” felt it was an honor to work with him. Alex passed away on September 6, 2007, prematurely, at the age of 31.
Film length: 55 Minutes
Directed by Emily Wick
Produced by Grey Parrot Studios
To learn more about these ambassadors from the animal world, please go to: http://alexfoundation.org
“Life with Alex” is available on DVD and can be purchased at http://LifeWithAlexMovie.com
For more information please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org