Chimps Shown Using Not Just a Tool but a "Tool Kit"

Bijal Trivedi
for National Geographic News
October 6, 2004

Anyone who has tried to replace a punctured tire or fix a leaky faucet knows the importance of having the right tool for the job. Chimpanzees, it turns out, are also very particular about their tool choice, especially when it comes to digging into termite mounds to get a tasty snack.

Using infrared, motion-triggered video cameras, researchers have documented how chimpanzees in the Goualougo Triangle—a region within the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in the Republic of Congo—use a variety of tools to extract termites from their nests. The "tool kits" are among the most complex ever observed in wild chimp populations.

See Chimp Video Clips (Real One Player Required)
Video 1: Adult Female Punctures Termite Nest With Stick
Video 2: Young Male Punctures Nest, Then "Fishes"
Video 3: Adult Female Punctures Aboveground Nest, Then "Fishes"

Videos courtesy The American Naturalist

Tool use among chimpanzees is well documented. For example, chimps in the Taï rain forest, in West Africa's Côte d'Ivoire, use stone "hammers" to crack open nuts. In Tanzania's Gombe National Park, chimps use straw and blades of grass to hunt for termites, as made famous in Jane Goodall's classic documentaries.

The new study, published in the current issue of the biology journal The American Naturalist, adds another detail to this picture.

For the last two decades scientists in the Congo River Basin have been collecting sticks—tools discarded after termite fishing—around termite mounds. But few have witnessed the chimps in action.

The new video cameras revealed chimps using one short stick to penetrate the aboveground mounds and then a "fishing probe" to extract the termites.

For subterranean nests the chimps use their feet to force a larger "puncturing stick" into the earth, drilling holes into termite chambers, and then a separate fishing probe to harvest the insects. Often the chimps modified the fishing probe, pulling it through their teeth to fray the end like a paintbrush. The frayed edge was better for collecting the insects.

"It's exciting to watch these chimps do something that we've seen only people do before—use their feet to push the stick into the ground as a farmer might do with a shovel," said Pat Wright, a primatologist with the New York State's Stony Brook University.

Termite Hunting, Tough Act To Follow

Continued on Next Page >>


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