Musings of the Great Eric

Chimps use spears; humans ain’t so special

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This caught my eye on Science Blog: Killer chimps found hunting with spears

Chimpanzees are well known for their ingenuity in using tools for some tasks, such as obtaining invertebrate insects from logs or pounding open hard nuts, but there had been only fleeting evidence of chimpanzees brandishing tools for bona fide hunting.

In the new work, researchers observed tool use in hunting by the Fongoli community of savanna-dwelling chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) in southeastern Senegal. Chimpanzees were observed making spear-like tools in a step-wise fashion, and subsequently using them with jabbing motions in an apparent effort to obtain lesser bushbabies (Galago senegalensis) from cavities in hollow branches or tree trunks. Bushbabies are nocturnal prosimians that retire to such hidden cavities during the day.

Although there was only one successful attempt in 22 recorded instances of the chimpanzees using the spear-like tools to find and obtain prey, the researchers observed that tool-crafting and associated hunting behavior was systematic and consistent, suggesting that it was habitual. The hunting behavior included forceful jabbing motions into branch or trunk hollows, and chimpanzees were seen to subsequently open the hollows by breaking wood off from a distance, suggesting that the jabbing actions were intended to immobilize bushbabies, rather than rouse them from their cavities (bushbabies move quickly and might otherwise easily evade chimpanzees once roused).

I always find it interesting just how special human beings aren’t.

But what I find especially fascinating here is that although using weapons clearly isn’t “special” in of itself, the way those weapons get used is. The anatomy of a chimp is a different than that of a human. Their hips aren’t well suited to walking upright, their arms aren’t well suited for thrusting, and there’s still that lack of an opposable thumb. So a chimpanzee hunter is going to develop a significantly different set of tactics and skills than a human hunter using the same weapon, and an altogether different way of thinking about it. Given enough time, a completely different culture and civilization would be formed than anything human beings would or could ever imagine.


Written by Eric

February 23, 2007 at 10:03 am

Posted in Science

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