Chimp culture

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Scientists generally have held that culture is unique to humans. That said, there has been mounting evidence of differing behaviors in distinct animal populations that points towards culture existing among other species. However, the groups studied have lived remote from each other, so environmental or genetic differences may account for the different behavior patterns.  

The Max Planck Gesellschaft website reports in their article Chimpanzee cultures differ between neighbors that scientists have been studying three groups of chimpanzes that live in close proximity and exhibit signs of cultural behaviors. As the article reports:
The Taï chimpanzee project field site in Côte d’Ivoire presents the unique opportunity to study three neighboring chimpanzee communities at the same time, making it possible to directly compare the behaviors present in each community. Chimpanzees in Côte d’Ivoire use stone and wooden tools to crack nuts. Lydia Luncz was therefore able to observe how the chimpanzees were selecting hammers to crack Coula nuts in the three adjacent communities. After placing gathered Coula nuts on root anvils, the chimpanzees of all three neighboring communities primarily select stones to use as hammers. However, as the nut season advances and nuts get drier and easier to crack, the chimpanzees of two of the communities select a greater proportion of wooden hammers which are easier to find in the forest, while the members of the third community continue to favor stone hammers. Furthermore, the two communities that select wooden hammers choose distinctly different sized hammers. All of the chimpanzees live in a contiguous stretch of the large Taï National Park and therefore ecological differences are unlikely to explain the differences in tool selection.
Interesting stuff. It does seem intuitive that apes are smart enough to learn behavior and pass it on to their peers. I wonder -- do females ever pass between ape bands? Apparently not, as you would think that the nut cracking strategies would diffuse if that happened.

By the way, I apologize to any apes reading this post for the slightly insulting video that accompanies it -- I looked for ape culture and landed on cultured ape instead. You've got to admit that the James Bond ape looks spiffy in his tux.