Chimpanzee Use of Tools
Before the 1960s, it was common knowledge that chimpanzees were intelligent animals. However, it was not known the reach of their cognitive ability. During the following decades this topic was studied thoroughly and was found that, besides a bright intelligence, they have the capability to use objects like tools, which is an indication of their intellect.
Many people use the word “tool” to designate utensils such as hammers, screwdrivers, hooks, and other things used to work, but in a broad sense, the term includes every object that helps to perform a task. It is clear that chimpanzees do not make tools like knives or bows, but they use some stuff at their reach to solve some problems like obtaining food, personal care, and socialization.
Chimpanzees make use of the objects they have at their disposal to address some needs such as getting food and socialization.
The discovery of this ability was in the 1960s when the primatologist Jane Goodall, was studying primates in the Gombe National Park, Tanzania. She observed that two chimpanzees took some branches, removed their leaves and inserted them into a termite nest so that the termites could climb on them and then took the sticks to their mouth to eat the insects. It was the first time that a non-human animal was seen developing a primary tool and using it to achieve a purpose; now it is presumed that they have done it for at least 4,300 years.
This ability is observed in chimpanzees since they are young, as they learn by watching their parents. This fact has led experts to think that this species has a rudimentary culture since learning is transmitted from generation to generation in several ways.
What tools do chimpanzees use?
The tools that chimpanzees use vary according to each population. In some there is more diversity; For example, in the community of Gombe they use thick and thin branches, rocks, leaves and stems in 9 different ways to solve food, defense, and cleaning needs among others.
Their primary goal is to obtain food. Chimpanzees are omnivorous, and although they can hunt small mammals, their favorite animal food is termites. These insects build large nests whose interior protects them from predators. However, this is not enough to stop chimpanzees from catching them, since they use thin branches that insert into a hole of the termite nest to get them. Having done this, they remove the branch and slide it into the mouth.
Similarly, they can place a plant stem on a surface to make the ants climb on it, and introduce them into honeycombs to extract the honey, in an activity similar to fishing.
They have been seen taking large, curved leaves to collect water and ease drinking.
Other individuals use relatively small but heavy stones and strike them against walnuts or hard-shelled fruits to open them up and have access to their interior. Only the chimpanzees of West Africa break the shell of the fruits with two stones or trunks. In another case, they do not know how to swim, and they hate to get wet, but at least one chimpanzee has been seen taking a long stick and fetching a banana floating in the water without getting wet.
Sometimes they compress several leaves and soak them in water to absorb the liquid like a sponge. Later they squeeze the leaves to drink the accumulated water. Sometimes they simply take large, curved leaves, collect water with them and then drink it.
Chimpanzees can also use tools as a weapon, although this assumption is not conclusive yet. A study led by an anthropologist at Iowa State University affirmed that some Senegalese chimpanzees use trunks or branches sharpened with their teeth as spears to hunt smaller primates, although this claim is still not universally accepted.
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