Chimps More Like Us Than We Knew, Share Food With Each Other

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.

The article will appear in an upcoming issue of Primates but is already available online. Videotapes of the Fongoli apes can be found on Pruetz’s YouTube channel.

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Photos from belgianchocolate via Flickr Creative Commons

90 comments

Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener4 years ago

We're all animals.

Carrie Anne Brown

interesting article, thanks for sharing :)

colleen p.
colleen p.4 years ago

i think there is a differance between sharing sharing and tolerating. you can have a trogh of food for dogs, and they can get along. but take one dog and move it away from another (by 20 feet or another room) and give the dog two biscots. the dog won't eat one and take the other to the other dog. this is the kind of sharing those rat and ape do.

Winn Adams
Winnie Adams4 years ago

Thanks for the info.

Gloria Morotti
Gloria Morotti4 years ago

Time for us to realize we are all part of nature and are more like than unlike other animals.

colleen p.
colleen p.4 years ago

they are not just sharing, they are using barter. a system. primates use sex and food as money.

Craig Zimmerman
Craig false4 years ago

A lot of animals share food with eachother.It's not that unusual and it is certainly not confined to Chimps.

Stephen Gyetko
Steve Gyetko4 years ago

Yup, they're just like us. They kill their own, just like us, out of no reason but pure anger, just like us. You know, the more people and 'primates' my wife and I know, the more we love birds! Our 'feathered kids', the 'wild brothers' outside whom we feed all winter long, it doesn't matter, to us they're all 'brothers of the feather'. We've got a saying around our house: "If it's got feathers, it's a groove".

Marilyn NOfwds D.
4 years ago

Shan D:

~"Our 5 cats are very willing to share their food too, but not by handing it over, just by walking away if one of the other cats goes to their dish and starts eating it." -

That's not sharing. That's submission to the pecking order.~

Actually it isn't the pecking order. ALL of our cats will do that with ALL of the others. I've observed it daily for the last 7 years ....and the oldest, who does seem to be the alpha cat in many ways, will always leave her dish to allow any of the others to eat from it....and they all do it equally and frequently...like at every feeding.
In order to make sure they all get fed, I have to be present during meal time and see to it that they all eat only their own food from their own dish....and it isn't because they eat different food nor does it seem to be for any reason other than to share.

Our cats all get along really really unusually well and will sleep in a pile like a litter of kittens, even though they're all rescues who were adopted at different times. They truly seem to love each other and have for 7 years (when we brought in the last one).

I think when there is enough food, they're willing to share, and I don't think that's odd behavior for the most intelligent of animals....but I haven't observed lizards and bugs or wild bunnies or coyotes to see if they would do it too.

colleen p.
colleen p.4 years ago

@ Shan. I have an interest in taxidermy, so any whole rodents I would get will be used. But the migratory bird protection act would stop me from using birds. My parents whom I live with won't let the cat be indoor only. He has a bell so, maybe the birds won't die.