For the first time ever, researchers have recorded chimpanzees learning skills from each other in the wild. The findings in a new study lends credence to the notion that our closest living relative passes on culture and customs just like us.
An international research team witnessed the behavior after studying the Sonso chimpanzee community in Uganda’s Budongo Forest. There, they witnessed the spread of two tool-use behaviors.
Researchers have known for years that chimpanzee troops have unique behaviors that differ from troop to troop. Some use tools, others do not. These differences are classified as ‘cultural,’ meaning one chimpanzee learns from another.
The observation of chimpanzees learning skills from each other has been observed in captivity, but not in the wild – until now.
The study, published in PLOS Biology, looked at the use of leaf-sponges – used to dip into water and drink from.
Researchers observed the alpha male make a leaf sponge with a dominant adult female looking on. Six days later, seven other chimpanzees made and used leaf sponges. The research team also saw an adult male retrieve and reuse a discarded leaf sponge. Eight more chimpanzees quickly picked up on this despite only four observing the reusing of the sponge.
Researchers created a model and estimate a chimpanzee observing the leaf-sponging technique was 15 times more likely to develop the technique.
“We conclude that group-specific behavioral variants in wild chimpanzees can be socially learned, adding to the evidence that this prerequisite for culture originated in a common ancestor of great apes and humans, long before the advent of modern humans,” reads the study abstract.
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