Filed under: Interesting Chimp Stories
Science Daily — Experimental evidence reveals that chimpanzees will help other unrelated humans and conspecifics without a reward, showing that they share crucial
Debates about altruism are often based on the assumption that it is either unique to humans or else the human version differs from that of other animals in important ways. Thus, only humans are supposed to act on behalf of others, even toward genetically unrelated individuals, without personal gain, at a cost to themselves.
Studies investigating such behaviors in nonhuman primates, especially our close relative the chimpanzee, form an important contribution to this debate.
Felix Warneken and colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology present experimental evidence that chimpanzees act altruistically toward genetically unrelated conspecifics.
In addition, in two comparative experiments, they found that both chimpanzees and human infants helped altruistically regardless of any expectation of reward, even when some effort was required, and even when the recipient was an unfamiliar individual–all features previously thought to be unique to humans.
The evolutionary roots of human altruism may thus go deeper than previously thought, reaching as far back as the last common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees. In a related article, Frans de Waal discusses the issues brought out by this discovery.
Citation: Warneken F, Hare B, Melis AP, Hanus D, Tomasello M (2007) Spontaneous altruism by chimpanzees and young children. PLoS Biol 5(7): e184. doi:10.1371/journal. pbio.0050184.
Filed under: Interesting Chimp Stories
Troops often are distinct from one another because of learned behavior
By Charles Q. Choi
June 8, 2007
Chimpanzees readily learn and share techniques on how to fiddle with gadgets, new research shows, the best evidence yet that our closest living relatives pass on customs and culture just as humans do.
The new findings help shed light on the capabilities of last common ancestor of humans and chimps. And the research could also help develop better robots and artificial intelligences, the researchers say
In the wild, chimpanzee troops often are distinct from one another, possessing collections of up to 20 traditions or customary behaviors that altogether seem to form unique cultures. Such practices include various forms of tool use, including hammers and pestles; courtship rituals such as leaf-clipping, where leaves are clipped noisily with the teeth; social behaviors such as overhead hand-clasping during mutual grooming; and methods for eradicating parasites by either stabbing or squashing them.
While observing chimpanzees, evolutionary psychologist Antoine Spiteri at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland wanted to help settle the question of whether or not the apes learned such practices by watching others like humans do, as opposed to simply knowing how to perform such behaviors innately.
Spiteri and his colleagues investigated six groups of chimpanzees, each with eight to 11 apes, living in captivity in Bastrop, Texas. The researchers taught a lone chimpanzee from one group one technique for obtaining food from a complex gadget, such as stabbing food with a tool. They next taught one chimp from another group a different technique for extracting food from the same gadget, such as pushing it out down a ramp.
The extremely hot Texas weather made it hard for researchers to work, “and because participation by the chimpanzees in each of these studies has been completely voluntary, it sometimes means that we as experimenters have had to be extremely patient,” Spiteri recalled. “Considering the insights we have gathered, it has been worth the sacrifice.”
A number of these chimpanzee groups are next-door neighbors within eyeshot of each other, and researchers found traditions proved catching, with foraging practices spreading from one group to another, findings detailed in the June 19 issue of the journal Current Biology.
“The possibility that some primates may be able to learn from others has great implications on how we treat them and how we think about ourselves,” Spiteri told LiveScience. “These results indicate to us that chimps have a capacity for cultural complexity, which was likely shared by our common ancestor going back around 5 million years ago.”
This work is “particularly useful to robotic development and artificial intelligence,” Spiteri added. “Understanding how the mechanisms of imitation and social learning can help us develop artificial beings that can behave and evolve in the way that we do and ultimately it may help us create other brains.”
Filed under: Gorillas
“She’s more or less OK. It is certainly a worrying situation, but not hopeless,” Paulin Ngobobo, senior warden in eastern Congo’s Virunga National Park, said from the city of Goma, where he is looking after the female infant.
He said the young mountain gorilla, born on April 15 and named Ndakasi by conservationists, had accepted baby formula from a feeding bottle. Mountain gorillas usually suckle for up to three years in the wild.
At least two have been killed and eaten already this year by rebels living off the land as militia fighting drags on despite the official end of Congo’s five-year war in 2003, in which violence, hunger and disease killed around 4 million people.
It was unclear who had killed the adult female or why. She had been killed “execution-style” in the back of the head and left at the scene rather than taken away to be eaten, said Emmanuel de Merode of conservation group Wildlife Direct.
“It looks like she was lured with bananas because we found bananas at the site,” de Merode said from Goma.
“She was shot at very close range … a second gorilla was probably shot because there was a trail of blood nearby and three gunshots were heard. The other was probably wounded and got away,” he said.
“There are militia groups there. This particular incident was in the Mikeno sector, which is on the border of Rwanda. There was a lot of fighting in that area in January and those problems have not entirely been solved,” he said.
Last month Mai Mai rebels attacked patrol posts in Virunga park, killing one wildlife officer and critically injuring three others, and threatened to slaughter gorillas if park rangers retaliated, Wildlife Direct said at the time.
More than 150 rangers have been killed in the last decade while protecting Congo’s parks from poachers, rebel groups, illegal miners and land invasions, working through the war without pay, Wildlife Direct said.