Could apes be trained for sports?

Okay, they don’t run that fast, but they are strong. Could a chimp, orangutan or gorilla be trained to pitch a baseball, throw a football or shoot a basketball on a par with a pro athlete?

How about something where accuracy isn’t quite as important, like shot putting?

Are there any other sports where a trained ape could match or beat a human and follow the rules?

No idea, but oh my GOD, don’t ever put a shot in the hand of an ape. Please, please don’t.

As you imply, accuracy is of the essence here - strength has value, but is not nearly as important. I’d say evidence is slight that non-human simians could excel at these things. Has any chimp ever been observed to throw with even average human accuracy (which is of course a hell of a ways from what a professional pitcher must do)?

And if the question is whether they could actually participate in team sports, that would require that they learn rules and how to properly cooperate with teammates - another serious level of sophistication.

This is really not a GQ, I’d say, but I’m weighing in, anyway. I believe that an animal could be taught the essential skill of throwing a ball, or putting the shot. The essence of your question, however, is the degree to which that act would match a professional athlete. And there, I think the task would fail, because professional athletes are not only able to perform these skills, but they do them at the absolute peak of their abilities. A chimp could throw a baseball, but it’s doubtful that you could get him to throw it as hard as he possibly could. He might be able to throw a basketball at a hoop, but it’s unlikely that he’d be able to practice it hundreds of times a day for days on end so that he’d be as proficient as an professional basketball player. The basic skill could probably be mastered, but not the degree of effort. Ergo, in answer to your question: No.

Well, I wouldn’t want to box one. At chess boxing, we might have a draw.

It depends on whether the rules prohibit ripping off your opponent’s face.

Even the simplest sports would present problems in terms of execution. How do you teach a shot-putting chimp to stay in bounds? A pitching ape would balk on every pitch.

My understanding is that the evolutionary tradeoff that cost us our strength, relative to the other great apes, also gave us the ability to throw things more effectively than them (this tradeoff being a good bargain for us, what with throwing weapons and all). So I’d say that humans would probably be better than the other apes at any task involving throwing. If we want a chimp all-star, we want a sport where strength is more important than speed of motion. They’d beat us in weightlifting, certainly, and I don’t think I’d bet on the human in MMA fighting, either.

The only sport that springs to mind is power-lifting. There is a good deal of technique involved, but chimps have a huge strength advantage, that they might be able to take us on

I thought about regular weightlifting, but it needs a lot of leg strength that has to be transferred through the hips. Chimps aren’t built built for it (nor are we, that’s what the training is for).

The rules of the game, the organization of the field, the methods, etc are all abstract things. Animals have trouble with this kind of thinking. I think anything that cant be taught via classical conditioning would be impossible, so the complexity of most sports would never work.

If games count as “sport” for purposes of the OP, I think maybe an ape or parrot could be taught to play tic-tac-toe or checkers to the level of a human child.

I don’t think any of us have enough experience with ape training to weight in. Everyone’s just talking out of their ass.

You can certainly teach dogs to do a lot. Are dogs really more trainable than apes?

Non-human apes aren’t anywhere near as good as we are at balancing on two feet, especially if one needs to then throw something. So I doubt they could compete with a pro athlete. Their thumbs are also much shorter than ours, which would hurt them when it came to grabbing a ball in one hand.

OTOH, they could probably out-compete gymnasts on the rings or, and I’m drawing a blank here, but where the men do those swinging things on the single bar as long as holding your legs really, really straight wasn’t a requirement (and I think it is).

Horizontal bar.

It would be difficult to convey to the chimp the essence of what he was supposed to achieve, but some sports might work. I had a friend who wrestled Victor the Wrestling Bear (it was actually a female), and the bear had only one basic approach to the situation. It was so big and strong that it worked, however.

“Look at those poor saps back on land with their laws and ethics! They’ll never know the simple joys of a monkey knife fight.”

>You can certainly teach dogs to do a lot. Are dogs really more trainable than apes?

You can train them via classical conditioning. You can make them do things on command and learn things that will either reward them or punish them. Teaching them about downs, field goals, positions, fouls, etc is completely different.

That said, Im sure you can come up with specialized sports for animals. You can have border collies try to gather sheep and time them. You can reward them with food if they go quickly, but they wont know they are competing or understand anything more than what evolution has given them.

I love this thread because it reminds me of my neighbor’s dog.

He’s still young (under 2 years) and I’ll throw the frisbee to him and we’ll play for awhile. I throw it, he catches then fetches it back to me.

Then the dog always decides at some point to change the “rules.” Now I have to chase him to get it.


What about the nuances of reading the different scenarios during a game? Do you throw a pass, run the football, get out of bounds? Who do you throw to or pass the ball to? Long yardage or just enough to get first down? Just because an animal can perform one aspect of a game better than a human doesn’t mean squat if he/she doesn’t perform the correct action at the right time under the current circumstances.

Ultimate Fighting would largely come naturally to them, I imagine.