AboutZoos, Since 2008


Wild chim­panzee moth­ers teach young to use tools, video study confirms

pub­lished 17 Octo­ber 2016 | mod­i­fied 17 Octo­ber 2016

Congo Chimpanzee with motherThe first doc­u­mented evi­dence of wild chim­panzee moth­ers teach­ing their off­spring to use tools has been cap­tured by video cam­eras set to record chim­panzee tool-​using activ­ity at ter­mite mounds in the Nouabalé-​Ndoki National Park in the Repub­lic of Congo, accord­ing to new research from anthro­pol­o­gists at Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity in St. Louis.

Wild chim­panzees are excep­tional tool users, but in con­trast to humans, there has been lit­tle evi­dence to date that adult chim­panzees teach young­sters tool skills,” said Stephanie Mus­grave, the study’s first author and an anthro­pol­ogy grad­u­ate stu­dent in Arts & Sciences.

We found that mother chim­panzees in the Goualougo Tri­an­gle teach by trans­fer­ring termite-​fishing probes to their off­spring,” Mus­grave said. “In this pop­u­la­tion, chim­panzees select spe­cific herb species to make their fish­ing probes, and they pro­duce probes that have a par­tic­u­lar brush-​tipped design. By shar­ing tools, moth­ers may teach their off­spring the appro­pri­ate mate­r­ial and form for man­u­fac­tur­ing fish­ing probes.”

Pub­lished online on 11 Octo­ber in the jour­nal Sci­en­tific Reports, the study is based on research con­ducted in part­ner­ship with the Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Soci­ety, the Lin­coln Park Zoo, the Max Planck Insti­tute and Franklin and Mar­shall Col­lege. The find­ings have impor­tant impli­ca­tions for the evo­lu­tion of teaching.

It is easy for us to take for granted the impor­tance of shar­ing infor­ma­tion to learn com­plex skills, as it is ubiq­ui­tous in humans,” said Crick­ette Sanz, asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of bio­log­i­cal anthro­pol­ogy in Arts & Sci­ences at Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity and co-​author of the study. “Our research shows that the evo­lu­tion­ary ori­gins of this behav­iour are likely rooted in con­texts where par­tic­u­lar skills are too chal­leng­ing for an indi­vid­ual to invent on their own.”

Mus­grave, Sanz and col­leagues used video to cap­ture exam­ples of wild chim­panzee moth­ers trans­fer­ring spe­cial­ized termite-​gathering tools to less-​skilled, imma­ture chim­panzees. These trans­fers, which are costly to tool donors but ben­e­fi­cial to tool recip­i­ents, meet the sci­en­tific cri­te­ria for teach­ing in wild apes.

This is the first such evi­dence sat­is­fy­ing these cri­te­ria [costly for moth­ers, ben­e­fi­cial for off­spring] for teach­ing in wild apes.
Stephanie Mus­grave, lead author, anthro­pol­ogy grad­u­ate stu­dent in Arts & Sci­ences, Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity in St. Louis »

Tool trans­fers are costly for moth­ers, whose abil­ity to for­age for ter­mites is reduced, but are ben­e­fi­cial for off­spring, who gain increased oppor­tu­nity to learn tool skills and gather ter­mites,” Mus­grave said.

Iden­ti­fy­ing teach­ing among wild ani­mals is dif­fi­cult because one has to quan­tify the impact of pos­si­ble teach­ing behav­iours on both the teacher and the learner,” Mus­grave said. “Using video footage from remote cam­era traps placed at ter­mite nests in the chim­panzees’ home range, we were able to observe and quan­tify how shar­ing tools affected those who relin­quished their tools as well as those who received them.”

Video footage from remote cam­era traps show­ing chimp moth­ers teach­ing their off­spring using tools:

Split­ting a tool the long way

An adult female chim­panzee at an above-​ground ter­mite nest divides her fish­ing probe length­wise. She pro­vides one half of her tool to her off­spring, who uses it to suc­cess­fully fish for ter­mites, and retains the other half for her own use. This strat­egy pro­duces two viable tools, which helps to buffer tool donors against the cost of trans­fer­ring a tool. (Video: Cour­tesy of Goualougo Tri­an­gle Ape Project.)

Chim­panzees are excep­tional among ani­mals for their remark­able propen­sity to make and use tools. Since dif­fer­ent groups of chim­panzees use dif­fer­ent types of tools, the teach­ing process also may need to be cus­tomized to address local conditions.

Study­ing how young chim­panzees learn the tool skills par­tic­u­lar to their group helps us to under­stand the evo­lu­tion­ary ori­gins of cul­ture and tech­nol­ogy and to clar­ify how human cul­tural abil­i­ties are sim­i­lar to or dif­fer­ent from those of our clos­est liv­ing rel­a­tives,” Mus­grave said.

The find­ings have inter­est­ing impli­ca­tions for iden­ti­fy­ing the cog­ni­tive under­pin­nings of teach­ing. In humans, teach­ing involves an under­stand­ing of oth­ers’ abil­i­ties and the inten­tion to help them learn. In this study, chim­panzee moth­ers both antic­i­pated the young­sters’ need for a tool and devised strate­gies to reduce the effort nec­es­sary to pro­vide them.

In exam­ples cap­tured in this study’s videos, moth­ers some­times bring mul­ti­ple tools to a ter­mite nest; they may also divide their fish­ing probe in half length­wise, giv­ing one-​half to their off­spring and keep­ing the other half. This strat­egy pro­vides their off­spring with a usable tool with­out com­pro­mis­ing their own abil­ity to gather food, Mus­grave said.

Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity pio­neered the use of remote video tech­nol­ogy to study the behav­iour of wild chim­panzees in Congo, and now it is used at nearly every ape research site across Africa. “It is a very effec­tive means of mon­i­tor­ing wildlife with­out increas­ing human impact. Our cam­era array also pro­vides a means of mon­i­tor­ing the health of the for­est, as other endan­gered species such as west­ern low­land goril­las, for­est ele­phants, and leop­ards are ‘cap­tured’ on film,” Sanz said.

In addi­tion to our tra­di­tional track­ing of wild chim­panzees through the for­est each day, this remote video tech­nol­ogy has been a force mul­ti­plier in expand­ing the scope of our research to sev­eral other chim­panzee com­mu­ni­ties,” Sanz said. “We have observed a gen­er­a­tion of chim­panzee kids learn how to use these tool sets, with­out hav­ing to spend a decade habit­u­at­ing them to human pres­ence or risk expos­ing them to anthro­pogenic diseases.”

(Source: Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity in St. Louis news release, 11.10.2016)

UN Biodiversity decade
WWF Stop Wildlife Crime
Fight for Flight campaign
End Ivory-funded Terrorism
Support Rewilding Europe
NASA State of Flux

Goal: 7000 tigers in the wild

Tiger range countries map

Tiger map” (CC BY 2.5) by Sander­son et al., 2006.

about zoos and their mis­sion regard­ing breed­ing endan­gered species, nature con­ser­va­tion, bio­di­ver­sity and edu­ca­tion, which of course relates to the evo­lu­tion of species.
Fol­low me on: