Chimpanzees are our closest animal relatives, even though there are plenty of other animals we share a massive amount of DNA with, like rats. That is why we use rats for experiments. Their DNA is so similar, and it's much less traumatic to do experiments on a rat than a sentient chimpanzee.
We take a massive interest in chimpanzees because of their relation to us. There is still so much to learn about how we evolved from chimpanzees, that it would be foolish to write them off as just dumb animals. They are so much more than that, which is evident by how they communicate and learn.
Chimpanzees have always been known to use tools, which is a very rare trait for animals, but how they pass on the knowledge to each other is something that was the focus of a recent study which found that chimpanzees who use tools also pass on the knowledge of said tools to other uninformed chimps.
Helping Each Other Could be the Key to Evolution
Chimpanzees are an incredible animal because they use tools much in the same way that we humans do. How do they know how to use these tools? The answer is simple: they teach each other. Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, Franklin and Marshall College, and the University of Miami recently found that chimpanzees share their complex tool-making and tool-use with chimpanzees who are unaware of such methods. The main takeaway from the study was to observe chimpanzees propensity to help each other. This is important because it may be the key to why humans have evolved in the way that we have.
Stephanie Musgrave, the first author of the study, said, "Non-human primates are often thought to learn tool skills by watching others and practicing on their own, with little direct help from mothers or other expert tool users."
The Study Focused on How Two Different Populations of Chimps Used Tools
Chimpanzees weren't observed to be constantly helping each other. Rather, they stepped in when another chimpanzee was engaged in a difficult task. Musgrave said, "In contrast, the results from this research indicate that social learning may vary in relation to how challenging the task is: during tasks that are more difficult, mothers can in fact play a more active role, including behaviors that function to teach."
Chimpanzees have been noted to use tools since Jane Goodall's research in the 1960s. This recent study is notable because it compared two different chimpanzee populations to determine how they both use tools for the same purpose. "First, chimpanzee populations may vary not only in the complexity of their tool behaviors but in the social mechanisms that support these behaviors. Second, the capacity for helping in chimpanzees may be both more robust and more flexible than previously appreciated."
Chimpanzees' Connection to Humans
The study looked at how different chimpanzee populations gathered termites, a major food source for chimpanzees. Goualougo chimpanzees used several different fishing style tools and were shown to share the tools with other chimpanzees and with their offspring specifically. Gombe chimpanzees did not share tools as frequently, even when asked.
"We have previously documented that tool transfers at Goualougo function as a form of teaching. The population differences we observed in the present study suggest that teaching may be related specifically to the demands of learning to manufacture tools at Goualougo, where chimpanzees use multiple tool types, make tools from select plant species, and perform modifications that increase tool efficiency." The study points to just how similar humans are to chimpanzees. Both species use teaching each other as a tool for survival both in the short term and the long term.
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