Chimps in Japan living out lives in sanctuary
July 27, 2007, 4:57 pm
Filed under: Interesting Chimp Stories

Chimp research ban may help studies into aging

Seventy-eight chimpanzees once used for medical testing will now give
researchers insights into how to improve geriatric care for humans.
Since a ban on medical testing on chimpanzees last year, the aging
primates have been living out their days at a luxurious ape “retirement”
center run in Kumamoto Prefecture by a pharmaceutical company.

A new research wing will open at the center on Aug. 1 to study the aging
process in primates.

The project, an initiative of Kyoto University and Nagoya-based Sanwa
Kagaku Kenkyusho Co. pharmaceutical company, will be funded by drug

Chimps were first brought to Japan by drug companies in the 1970s for
research on infectious diseases caused by viruses and bacteria and for
new drug trials.

Chimps are now classified as endangered. Under the Convention on
International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, also
known as the Washington Convention, Japan banned the import and export
of the primates since 1980.

With mounting pressure from animal rights activists to stop experiments
on living animals, experiments on chimps were halted in Japan last year.


Human-like Altruism Shown In Chimpanzees
June 26, 2007, 5:46 pm
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.

Chimps pass on gadget use like humans
June 11, 2007, 8:07 pm
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.”

Over time, the researchers found each technique for tool use and food extraction spread within each group. In essence, these groups displayed their own unique culture and local traditions.

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.”

Chimps are people too, insists scientist
May 5, 2007, 6:41 pm
Filed under: Interesting Chimp Stories


AN EXPERT on primates is to tell a court that apes are people, in a groundbreaking case that will determine whether a chimp can have human rights.

Jane Goodall, known worldwide for her study of chimpanzee social and family life, has agreed to testify that apes deserve the same treatment as humans.

The case has been filed in an Austrian court by Paula Stibbe, 38, a Briton who wants to become the legal guardian of a chimp called Matthew. The case was accepted by the court before officials realised Matthew was a primate, but their efforts to have it dismissed have failed.

The case centres around money given to Matthew by a well-wisher to safeguard his future after the animal home where he lived went bust. Ms Stibbe and her lawyers say he should have the same rights as a child and have a guardian to help him spend it. Ms Stibbe said: “Matthew likes watching TV and videos and playing games like any child, and can use signs and gestures to say what he wants. Of course he has the right to be recognised as an individual.”

This is the second legal action in Europe to address whether primates should be guaranteed human rights; the Socialist government in Spain has proposed a law to allow moral guardianship of great apes, akin to the care for severely disabled or comatose people.

Ms Stibbe moved to Vienna nine years ago and shortly afterwards got involved in helping to care for Matthew. He and another chimpanzee, called Rosie, share a room at an animal shelter in Voesendorf, south of Vienna. They were seized by customs officers and given to the sanctuary after being imported by a pharmaceuticals company, which wanted to use them for HIV research. When a court ordered the sanctuary to hand the chimps back, animal rights campaigners staged a mass protest, and the company gave up.

The pair, both now 26, have lived at the sanctuary since then, but when it went bankrupt, an anonymous donor gave several thousand pounds to Matthew to safeguard his future.

Dr Martin Balluch, an animal rights campaigner who instructed lawyers to file for guardianship for Ms Stibbe, said: “

We argue that chimps are part of the same genus as humans and that they also incorporate all the characteristics to justify personhood, in that they recognise and anticipate the rights and needs of other individuals.”

The court will make a decision on how to proceed once documents on Matthew’s background are provided.

A move to have the case thrown out failed after expert testimony running to dozens of pages seemed to back Matthew’s rights to human status.

The experts pointed out that chimps differ from humans by only 1 per cent of their genetic material, can accept a blood transfusion and can learn and use human languages through signs or symbols – although they lack the vocal dexterity to master speech.

Not all experts agree, however. Steve Jones, a professor of genetics at the University of London, said human rights did not apply to animals, adding: “If you start, where do you stop? Being human is unique and nothing to do with biology. Mice share 90 per cent of human DNA. Should they get 90 per cent of human rights? And plants have more DNA than humans. Chimps can’t speak, but parrots can – should they have rights too?”

Donald Gow, a primate keeper at Edinburgh Zoo, said: “This is a debate that won’t go away. But Edinburgh Zoo believes that chimps are best left alone by humans. We have a chimp called Ricky who spent the first five years of his life on board a ship in the merchant marine. He still displays human behaviour and has not been fully accepted by the other chimps”.

• CHIMPANZEES and humans differ by just over 1 per cent of DNA, and there are striking similarities in the composition of the blood and the immune responses. In fact, biologically, chimpanzees are more closely related to humans than they are to gorillas.

The chimpanzee (along with the gorilla and bonobo) is capable of intellectual performances once thought unique to humans. In the wild, they are capable of sophisticated co-operation in hunting. They use more tools for more purposes than any other creatures except ourselves. And they show the beginning of tool-making behaviour.

In captivity, chimpanzees can be taught human languages such as ASL (American Sign Language), learning 300 or more signs, and there are uncanny similarities in the nonverbal communication patterns of chimps and humans – examples include kissing, embracing, patting on the back, touching hands, tickling, swaggering, shaking the fist and brandishing sticks.


A world first: Great Ape trial in Austria
March 3, 2007, 12:19 pm
Filed under: Interesting Chimp Stories

Arkangel for animal liberation

Are the Great Apes our blood brothers?

In a groundbreaking case at the Mödling district court, just southwest of Vienna, Austria, a judge is to rule whether a chimp deserves a legal guardian. The chimpanzee in question is called Hiasl. But is he actually a chimp or a human, biologically speaking? This is one of the questions that will be addressed during the trial.

Hiasl was only a year old in 1982 when a poacher shot his mother and sold him to an animal trader. He was taken from his home in the Sierra Leone jungle in West Africa, then crated and shipped to Austria, destined for a vivisection lab 30 km East of Vienna. But by 1982, the CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) agreement already forbade the import of wild caught chimps, and so Hiasl and 7 other chimps were taken in by customs officers and handed over to an animal sanctuary.

The vivisection lab paid their fine and 4 years later, successfully sued the sanctuary to get Hiasl back as a research tool. 200 animal rights activists intervened to prevent his seizure, and Hiasl has remained safely at the sanctuary ever since. Now, courts are being asked to rule whether he is not just an endangered ape, but a person, entitled by law to a legal guardian.

The trial has been many years in preparation. Austria’s best-known primatologist, (who is in charge of the rehabilitation of 44 ex-laboratory chimps released in 2002 by US pharmaceutical company, Baxter, from their biomedical lab in Orth an der Donau), agreed to write an expert report supporting the demand for legal guardianship. Similarly, the world-renowned expert on wild chimps, London University’s Prof. Volker Sommer, dictated a statement by phone directly from the African jungle in support of Great Ape rights. In his view, chimps are not just one of the genus homo; he believes they should be considered as being of the same species as contemporary humans.

Surprisingly, 2 Professors at Vienna University also argued that in their expert opinion, a chimp could be considered a person before the law and, if not, would at least deserve a legal guardian to safeguard his/her interests. This work has even been published in a magazine on contemporary legal issues.

A few weeks ago, the sanctuary, which has been Hiasl’s home for so many years, went bankrupt. In order to ensure that he would not be sold to a zoo, a benefactor donated 5000€ to Hiasl and another named person, on the proviso that they both agree on how the money should be spent. This trick provided Hiasl’s co-beneficiary with the legal loophole to exercise his right to demand a legal guardian for Hiasl. How otherwise could one evaluate how the legacy should be spent?

In an unprecedented move, the unnamed individual applied to the Mödling district court (which has jurisdiction over the area where Hiasl’s home is located), to have a legal guardian appointed. In a 50-page statement, their solicitor summarized the arguments and quoted from the 4 expert statements, which argued on behalf of Hiasl’s personhood.

The initial response from the head of the district court was to file for the solicitor’s dismissal from the solicitor registry. Apparently, the attempt to scare him into withdrawing the case did not have the desired effect as the solicitor remained resolute.

On the 20th February, the judge – herself a member of the animal rights group VGT in Austria since 1998 – called the first hearing. She has halted proceedings until documents to prove Hiasl’s identity can be provided. But since Hiasl was abducted illegally from West Africa at a very early age, and seeking asylum in Austria, any such documents cannot be provided. The solicitor running the case is stressing that the law does not see such documents as a necessary prerequisite for a legal guardian to be appointed. The coming weeks will show how this historic case is proceeding. If Hiasl is granted human status, the long-term implications could be far reaching for all other primate species.

For First Time, Chimps Seen Making Weapons for Hunting
March 3, 2007, 12:12 pm
Filed under: Interesting Chimp Stories




By Rick Weiss

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 23, 2007; Page A01

Chimpanzees living in the West African savannah have been observed fashioning deadly spears from sticks and using the tools to hunt small mammals — the first routine production of deadly weapons ever observed in animals other than humans.

The multistep spearmaking practice, documented by researchers in Senegal who spent years gaining the chimpanzees’ trust, adds credence to the idea that human forebears fashioned similar tools millions of years ago.

The landmark observation also supports the long-debated proposition that females — the main makers and users of spears among the Senegalese chimps — tend to be the innovators and creative problem solvers in primate culture.

Using their hands and teeth, the chimpanzees were repeatedly seen tearing the side branches off long, straight sticks, peeling back the bark and sharpening one end. Then, grasping the weapons in a “power grip,” they jabbed them into tree-branch hollows where bush babies — small, monkeylike mammals — sleep during the day.

In one case, after repeated stabs, a chimpanzee removed the injured or dead animal and ate it, the researchers reported in yesterday’s online issue of the journal Current Biology.

“It was really alarming how forceful it was,” said lead researcher Jill D. Pruetz of Iowa State University, adding that it reminded her of the murderous shower scene in the Alfred Hitchcock movie “Psycho.” “It was kind of scary.”

The new observations are “stunning,” said Craig Stanford, a primatologist and professor of anthropology at the University of Southern California. “Really fashioning a weapon to get food — I’d say that’s a first for any nonhuman animal.”

Scientists have documented tool use among chimpanzees for decades, but the tools have been simple and used to extract food rather than to kill it. Some chimpanzees slide thin sticks or leaf blades into termite mounds, for example, to fish for the crawling morsels. Others crumple leaves and use them as sponges to sop drinking water from tree hollows.

But while a few chimpanzees have been observed throwing rocks — perhaps with the goal of knocking prey unconscious, but perhaps simply as an expression of excitement — and a few others have been known to swing simple clubs, only people have been known to craft tools expressly to hunt prey.

Pruetz and Paco Bertolani of the University of Cambridge made the observations near Kedougou in southeastern Senegal. Unlike other chimpanzee sites currently under study, which are forested, this site is mostly open savannah. That environment is very much like the one in which early humans evolved and is different enough from other sites to expect differences in chimpanzee behaviors.

Pruetz recalled the first time she saw a member of the 35-member troop trimming leaves and side branches off a branch it had broken off a tree.

“I just knew right away that she was making a tool,” Pruetz said, adding that she suspected — with some horror — what it was for. But in that instance she was unable to follow the chimpanzee to see what she did with it. Eventually the researchers documented 22 instances of spearmaking and use, two-thirds of them involving females.

In a typical sequence, the animal first discovered a deep tree hollow suitable for bush babies, which are nocturnal and weigh about half a pound. Then the chimp would break off a branch — on average about two feet long, but up to twice that length — trim it, sharpen it with its teeth, and poke it repeatedly into the hollow at a rate of about one or two jabs per second.

After every few jabs, the chimpanzee would sniff or lick the branch’s tip, as though testing to see if it had caught anything.

In only one of the 22 observations did a chimp get a bush baby. But that is reasonably efficient, Pruetz said, compared with standard chimpanzee hunting, which involves chasing a monkey or other prey, grabbing it by the tail and slamming its head against the ground.

In the successful bush-baby case, the chimpanzee, after using its sharpened stick, jumped on the hollow branch in the tree until it broke, exposing the limp bush baby, which the chimp then extracted. Whether the animal was dead or alive at that point was unclear, but it did not move or make any sound.

Chimpanzees are believed to offer a window on early human behavior, and many researchers have hoped that the animals — humans’ closest genetic cousins — might reveal something about the earliest use of wooden tools.

Many suspect that the use of wooden tools far predates the use of stone tools — remnants of which have been found dating from 2 1/2 million years ago. But because wood does not preserve well, the most ancient wooden spears ever found are only about 400,000 years old, leaving open the question of when such tools first came into use.

The discovery that some chimps today make wooden weapons supports the idea that early humans did too — perhaps as much as 5 million years ago — Stanford said.

Adrienne Zihlman, an anthropologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz, said the work supports other evidence that female chimps are more likely than males to use tools, are more proficient at it and are crucial to passing that cultural knowledge to others.

“Females are the teachers,” Zihlman said, noting that juvenile chimps in Senegal were repeatedly seen watching their mothers make and hunt with spears.

Females “are efficient and innovative, they are problem solvers, they are curious,” Zihlman said. And that makes sense, she added.

“They are pregnant or lactating or carrying a kid for most of their life,” she said. “And they’re supposed to be running around in the trees chasing prey?”

Frans B.M. de Waal, a primatologist at Emory University, said aggressive tool use is only the latest “uniquely human” behavior to be found to be less than unique.

“Such claims are getting old,” he said. “With the present pace of discovery, they last a few decades at most.”

See video http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/02/070222-chimp-video.html

Male Chimps Prefer Older Females
November 22, 2006, 7:47 pm
Filed under: Interesting Chimp Stories


By Charles Q Choi (LiveScience)

Males prefer older females, at least in the chimp world scientists now report.

These findings, reported in the Nov. 21 issue of the journal Current Biology, could shed light on how the more chimp-like ancestors of humans might have behaved, said researcher Martin Muller, a biological anthropologist at Boston University.

Human men often prefer young women. One reason for this, scientists propose, lies in the human proclivity to form unusually long-term mating pairs. When combined with the natural urge to beget as many children as possible, since a woman’s fertility is limited by age, men would find young women more sexually attractive.

Chimpanzees, unlike humans, do not form mating partnerships for long, and are instead promiscuous. Moreover, female chimps show no evidence of menopause, which means their fertility is not limited by age. This suggested male chimps might not care about the age of a mate as humans do.

Older is better

To test this prediction, Muller and his colleagues at Harvard investigated chimpanzees at Kibale National Park in Uganda for eight years.

“It takes a lot of effort to find them in the forest and to follow them through a lot of thick vegetation and to try and record all this,” Muller recalled.

Surprisingly, the scientists found male chimps preferred older females. Males approached older females more often for sex, and preferred clustering around older females that were in heat. Older females also had sex more frequently with high-ranking males and more regularly triggered male-on-male aggression during mating contests.

“The stereotypical view of human mating involves males wanting to be promiscuous and females being coy, but in chimps you see young females being very interested in mating with all the males, maybe going male to male and presenting their sexual swellings, sometimes grabbing their penis and playing with them, and the males just ignore them,” Muller told LiveScience.

Reasons unclear

It remains uncertain as to why male chimps would prefer older females, as opposed to not caring about age at all.

“Hormonal data collected noninvasively from urine samples suggest older females are more fecund. Perhaps this is a matter of their higher rank— older females tend to be dominant over younger ones, which gives them preferred access to the best foods, so they may be more likely to conceive,” Muller said.

In addition, the older females get, the more fit they might show themselves to be against the hardships of life, and thus could lead to equally robust children, which males could find attractive. Alternatively, older females might have accumulated mothering experience, leading to increased infant survivorship. “Or it might be any combination of these, or all of them,” Muller said.

To tease out why exactly human men favor young women and chimp males prefer older females, Muller suggested researching what other primate males look for, such as gibbons, who like humans form long-term mating pairs but like chimps do not have menopause.