Monday, March 09, 2009

Angry chimp shows humans not the only planners

An irritated chimpanzee at a zoo in Sweden calmly collected a stash of rocks early in the morning before the zoo opened and then hurled them at visitors when they arrived, confirming that chimps — like humans — can plan ahead.

The story is bouncing all over the wires today after it broke at the academic journal, Current Biology, this morning.

Apparently the 31-year-old alpha male even made his own makeshift projectiles — pieces of concrete he'd managed to dislodge from boulders in his enclosure. Sneaky, sneaky.

Anecdotal observations have been reported off and on from laboratory studies that have created situations that elicit evidence of planning in nonhuman primates, but so far, this is the only report I know of a chimp spontaneously, and unambiguously, planning an activity. Chimps in the wild have been known to hurl objects — mostly branches — during dominance displays but they've never been observed piling up weapons before such displays. Perhaps the materials are so plentiful they don't have to.

In any case, this observation "implies that they [chimps] have a highly developed consciousness, including lifelike mental simulations of potential events," says the lead author of the study, Mathias Osvath of Sweden's Lund University.

Another primatologist, Josep Call, co-author of the best reference book on primate cognition, cautions against over-generalizing the observation. "It could be that he is a genius, only more research will tell," Call said. Not all chimpanzees plan ahead.

The AP version of the story** says that no visitors were actually harmed — no surprise there given that chimps actually have horrible aim.

** And darn it if they didn't mispell Josep Call's name when they quoted him! Grrrr. They think he's Joseph.


The Empty Envelope said...

LOL!!! Well, there go my thoughts of Planet of the Apes coming to fruition if they have horrible aim. I am glad no one got hurt. But still, that is really funny.

Cecile/DreamCreateRepeat said...

That is a really interesting story! I wonder if he will now experience morning weapons screening before visitors arrive....

Joyce said...

Something similar occurred when I was a child. I cannot recollect what zoo I was at with my family, but I remember a man heckling a gorilla/ape -- The ape picked up what appeared to be ape poop and hurled it at this particular man. He totally deserved it.

I went back an read an article/blogpost you wrote in 2007 regarding endometriosis. I have been diagonsed with this "disease" for 7/8 years, but have long suffered its effects without having a name for it. As you said, it grows like cancer. My doctor told me "It is like cancer, but you won't die". Maybe cancer researchers should take a look at solving this, it make him them with fighting cancerous cells. It couldn't hurt and maybe they could help people like me who have gone through 5/6 surgeries in the last years, 3 round of Lupron, 5 years of straight birth control, horrific pain, and a life not well lived.

Dioxin? I have never heard of this as a possible factor; however, it seems unlikely all the women with this disease would have been around dioxin at some point...doesn't it? Anyway...thanks for writing about it.

Field Notes said...

Joyce, Thank you so much for your comment. I am glad my posts about endo are still being read. It's an awful condition that not many people know anything at all about, as I'm sure you know.

Ms Avery said...

Fascinating! Thanks for sharing this :)

Victoria Webb said...

I'm only surprised that more animals don't throw rocks or poop at gawking humans. Zoos are not my favorite places.