Your next invitation to dinner may come from a chimp, at least if you are a chimpanzee from the Fongoli savanna of Senegal.
Iowa State University anthropologist Jill Pruetz’s latest report, co-authored by ISU graduate student Stacy Lindshield, further challenges beliefs about what separates humans from our animal neighbors. According to ScienceDaily:
The researchers witnessed 41 cases of Fongoli chimpanzees willingly transferring either wild plant foods or hunting tools to other chimpanzees. While previous research by primatologists had documented chimps transferring meat among other non-relatives, this is the first study to document non-meat sharing behavior.
Pruetz uses GPS to track the chimps. Sometimes she records their behavior using a flip camera, which does not unsettle them the way a bulky camera would. Thanks to satellite technology, she can stay in the field yet still deliver lectures to her Iowa students. She has amassed years of data.
In 2007, Pruetz reported that the Fongoli chimps use tools to spear the bush babies they eat. She also witnessed them soaking in waterholes and sheltering in caves. But she waited until she could record enough incidents of transferring behavior to publish results that will challenge those resistant to ascribe human-like activities to chimps.
She considers her observations on transferring behavior to be preliminary but significant. Males offered food or tools to females in 27 out of 41 cases witnessed. In the other 14, males transferred food or tools to other males or took food from females. Pruetz suggests the transfers help hold the community together. While the careful scientist does not call the transferring “sharing,” she describes activities that a non-scientist would view as the free exchange of valuable goods.
Pruetz sees a link between any unique behavior of the Fongoli chimps and the savanna in which they live, which is very different from the forested areas where most primates have been studied. As she watches the chimps sharing tools or food, she gains insight into what may have characterized the behavior of our human ancestors.
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Photos from belgianchocolate via Flickr Creative Commons