Intelligence – it is hard to avoid believing that those animals most similar to us in appearance and behaviour are those species that constitute some of the highest intelligence. But when delving into the behaviour of chimpanzees, this case is most certainly true as we have began to unravel and discover the impressive intellect of chimpanzees.
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Chimpanzees have always been a very interesting species of primate observed by researchers, ambitious students and back-packed members of the public. Exhibiting several behaviours that are thought to be indicators of intelligence produces a large repertoire of funny, aggressive and problem solving behaviours which are a delight to see or capture on camera. When you stop to inspect the familiar faced primates, you will often be startled by their most significant evidence of intelligence – their extremely sophisticated use of tools.
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Prodding, poking, ripping, tearing, pulling, and pushing are all learnt behaviours entwined within the many objects they perceive as a beneficial tool. Reported cases across the world from zoo’s to national parks have confirmed that not only do chimpanzees use tools; they are also masters at making and shaping these tools beforehand – sharing a familiar concept of the caveman.
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Gombe National Park, Tanzania is a prime example of the stirring behaviours of intelligence observed within chimpanzees. In this case, the chimps have been seen scrunching up handfuls of leaves and using it as a sponge to dip into pools of water that have become collected in the hollows of trees. Finishing off with squeezing the leafy sponge into their mouths they obtain a drink – a tactful approach in gaining the essentials of life.
Image Source: Evan Hambric
In total, approximately nine different types of tool use have been documented within chimpanzees, with tthe most universal being the stick. These are regularly used to extract insects from nests or hidden dark places where their large fingernails just don’t quite fit. Cleverly, sticks are also used as an ‘extended arm’ in order to retrieve objects that may be out of reach. This tactic is taken up particularly within wet environments – in many cases in zoo enclosures, chimpanzees have used sticks to push and pull out food items from water pools as they hate getting wet. Very convenient!
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In the wild, researchers have become baffled by the intricate detail chimpanzee’s pay to the tools they use. Across the Congo River basin, chimpanzees perform a behaviour known as termite fishing – a task that is certainly not an easy one. During this course, the chimps turn up prepared with their fishing probes – and its always from one particular tree species - Thomandersia hensii . This is a perfect source that can be manipulated into a puncturing stick by the chimp’s patient hands. The preference of this tree, suggests that not only do chimpanzees understand which raw materials are best suited for different tasks, but also demonstrates that they will travel out to seek these sources and can easily identify them once the behaviour has been learnt.
Image Source: Bev Mason
Conservationists at Cambridge University, UK have witnessed these chimps arriving at termite nests with the manipulated tools in hand. After cracking through the sunbaked termite mounds or chambers with twigs and sticks, they fashion a good fishing probe to withdraw out the termites. Special techniques were observed for pulling the aggressive solider termites off the end of the probe, and some sticks were altered by being pulled through chimpanzee teeth to fray the end like a paintbrush – a better tool for sweeping up and collecting the insects.
It is moments like this where chimpanzees have caused excitement across animal behaviour – being one of the first unique species to carry out actions the same way people do. Using their feet to push sticks into the mounds in the same manner a farmer might do with his shovel are remarkable similarities.
Image Source: Evan Hambric
Infants sit closely to the scene, watching their intelligent mothers skilfully extract sticks swarming with a large meal of scurrying termites. It is these necessary social interactions that are responsible for learning and adapting the tool-using behaviours between generations.
In the intense Taϊ rain forest along West Africa’s Ivory Coast, archaeologists have explored sites where chimpanzees have set up the tool use of stones to crack open nuts for more than a century . This is a discovered starling key moment locked in history that may help unravel the origin of tool use in chimpanzees. This is a massive demonstration that animals, other than humans are able to create sites of archaeological interest that can be used to trace ape behaviour back in time.
Image Source: Michael Nick Nichols
The tasty art of nut cracking is a gifted one – requiring 2,200 pounds of skilfully applied force to split the nut without turning it into powder. During February to August – the prime nut cracking season, a practiced chimp can break open more than 100 nuts per day, obtaining a nutritional outburst of 3,000 calories. As the chimps strike the nuts, they unintentionally chip off fragments of rock – it is this, which has accumulated at these sites causing great interest.
Additional amazements of the intelligence of Chimpanzees.
It doesn’t just stop with the remarkable use of hands to manipulate, design and use tools. The intelligence of chimpanzees have been pushed further than this. Various studies have exposed that trained captive chimpanzees have learnt sign language and are capable of learning simple addition and subtraction mathematics. Chimpanzees can also recognise themselves in their reflections from a mirror – an indication of self awareness.
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The lifestyles of chimpanzees are a very different one in deed. Living in large hierarchical socials group, one male is dominant, but other males often form changeable coalitions to get rid of the dominant male or to keep him in power. Their society is more fluid than of other primates, as chimpanzees will form friendships and alliances rather than simply inheriting their ranks.
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Being one of the few animal species capable of deception, they often trick one another to obtain food or breeding partners, and like most social animals chimpanzees can be extremely violent, sending outbursts of aggression amongst the group. It is only when we impose and test captive chimpanzees, and hear the reports of specialists that have become baffled by chimpanzee behaviour that we can appreciate the high level of intelligence this species holds. Doors have become opened to an exciting future of opportunities and possibilities of discovering new behaviours or even learning tactics from chimpanzees ourselves. I hope you will all carefully watch chimpanzees a little closer, and witness the thrilling diverse behaviours behind the memorable eyes of chimpanzees.