Chimps can learn to use tools without observing others

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Chimps can learn to use tools without observing others
Image Courtesy: Primate research Institute

London: Chimpanzees can spontaneously use tools to solve a task, without first watching another animal to learn from them, researchers have found.

The results challenge the accepted belief that chimpanzees need to learn from each other how to use tools and instead suggest that some forms of tool-use are instead within their pre-existing behavioural repertoire, what the researchers call as "latent solutions".

"The commonly held belief is that chimpanzee behaviour is cultural, much like how human culture has been passed between groups," said Elisa Bandini from the University of Birmingham.

"But if that was the case, the same behaviours should never reoccur in naive subjects," Bandini added.

In the study, published in the journal PeerJ, the team looked for the spontaneous re-occurrence of a tool-use behaviour practiced in wild chimpanzees where sticks are used to "scoop" algae from the top of water surfaces.

The chimpanzees were provided with a container of water with pieces of floating food. 

The tested chimpanzees successfully used the sticks and, moreover, spontaneously showed the same underlying action pattern (a scooping action of the stick) as their wild cousins do.

Due to the close genetic ties between humans and chimpanzees, it is likely that naive individuals also spontaneously invented some forms of early human material culture, the researchers said.

"Given these results, the long-held assumption that apes must observe one another in order to show these behaviours may have been due to an illusion of cultural transmission -- created by the apes arriving at the same behaviour independently," explained Claudio Tennie from the University of Tubingen in Germany.