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Bonobos Can Make Stone Tools…and That’s Freaking Cool

Bonobos Can Make Stone Tools…and That’s Freaking Cool

In yet another experiment that adds to the ever-mounting evidence that humans aren’t special at all, scientists at the University of Haifa in Israel have observed bonobos making stone tools on par with those made by early humans.

Bonobos, along with chimpanzees, are human’s closest living relatives. Those two apes make up the genus Pan, while humans are in the genus Homo. Chimpanzees are known tool-users, but bonobos aren’t known for this. However, in captivity, they have been known to bash some rocks together. Two of the bonobos in this current study — Kanzi and Pan-Banisha – were taught to make stone tools in the 1990s, but it looks like Kanzi has been doing his homework because he proved to be a brilliant problem solver. According to Phys.org:

The researchers challenged Kanzi and Pan-Banisha to break wooden logs and to dig underground, tests similar to tasks the apes might have to carry out to get food in the wild. To break the logs — an act similar at cracking open bones to get at marrow — the scientists not only saw these apes use rocks as hammers or projectiles to smash their targets, but also observed them either rotating stone flakes to serve as drills or use the flakes as scrapers, axes or wedges to attack slits, the weakest areas of the log. To root into hard soil, these bonobos used both unmodified rocks and a variety of handmade stone tools as shovels.

Both bonobos used tools, but Kanzi’s are different. They aren’t just any tools. These are tools that have the hallmarks of the tool categories of early Homo: wedges and choppers, and scrapers and drills. The last common ancestor of humans and bonobos may have had this capability, which means the use of stone tools would predate Homo. This is significant. This new observation further questions when Homo culture began. It questions where we fit in the tree of life.

Researchers were quick to point out that Kanzi, the breakout star of this experiment, is no ordinary bonobo. He was raised around humans and has had constant interactions with people. The researchers studied five other bonobos and none of them created stone tools, although there were a few wooden tools or unmodified rocks used as hammers. Even Pan-Banisha only used a few stone tools for digging.

So it’s hard to say what significance this has on bonobo intelligence as a group. Since both Kanzi and Pan-Banisha were taught to make tools in captivity, it’s unclear whether these tools would be seen in the wild, but the potential is there. It’s likely that our early ancestors had the mental capacity to make stone tools. It’s an exciting new chapter in the story of our evolutionary family tree. You can watch a video of this remarkable ape and his stone tools via The Guardian.

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Image credit: Alaina Abplanalp Photography

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7:19AM PST on Mar 6, 2014

They are probably smarter than loads of humans I have seen in action. When I look at the "human kingdom" all I see is devastation and greed, but when I look at the animal kingdom I see love and acceptance of/for all. Humans think they are smart because they can trap an animal and kill it or find "solutions" to control the animal population. Sorry for the rant, I am very anti-human at the moment. My heart is in pieces over some of the things I have seen lately and yes, I battle to use the word human and smart in the same sentence at the moment.

3:35AM PDT on Sep 10, 2013

Hopefully we don't now force them to be our miners... I hope all this research leads to animals freedom from human enslavement finally!!!!

11:59AM PST on Mar 6, 2013

We are the most cruel,destructive,brutal,barbaric monsters living on earth.
Then comes a very long,long time nothing.And maybe someday comes the wild animals.
And that animals are more social,caring,devoted and friendly as we humans ever will.

9:42AM PDT on Oct 12, 2012

not surprising.. they are resourceful, intelligent and crafty

9:55PM PDT on Sep 7, 2012

Its not really surprising that animals have unique abilities necessary for their survival.

9:10PM PDT on Sep 5, 2012

Actually I think humans ARE special! Special in the fact that we are the only animals on the planet who are greedy, materialistic, purposefully destroy the planet, watch our OWN SPECIES die of hunger and dehydration and do nothing about it, and much, much more (negative) things. So yeah, just TRY and tell ME I am not special!!

5:41PM PDT on Sep 2, 2012

Interesting. Thanks.

8:08PM PDT on Aug 31, 2012

Many apes and monkeys, when living close to humans, watch and learn how to do a variety of things, just through observation. This is not such a new thought..........

7:35PM PDT on Aug 31, 2012

Animals have qualities and abilities that humans never have had, and never will! If you would like some free info and reading on the amazing Animal/Human Interlink click onto www.the-system-of-animal-therapy.co.uk/publications. Much love to you and your animals from Animal Whisperer Rosi Caswell

8:21AM PDT on Aug 31, 2012

interesting article, thanks for sharing :)

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