Apes Can Plan for Future, Experiments Suggest

Nicholas Bakalar
for National Geographic News
May 18, 2006

Planning for future needs is a hallmark of human intelligence, but it may not be an exclusively human characteristic.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have found that orangutans and bonobos are capable of some careful planning of their own.

In a series of experiments the scientists gauged whether the apes could plan the use of tools to open an apparatus that contained food.

After learning how to use the tools to get the food, the animals and the tools were separated from the apparatus for a period of time.

The results showed that in many cases, when the apes returned to the room with the food apparatus, they brought the proper tools with them—in other words, they had managed to plan ahead.

The research was led by Josep Call, co-director of the Planck Institute's Wolfgang Köhler Primate Research Center.

Call said that the apes performed the same kind of planning that humans engage in.

"This, by the way, also applies to humans," he said.

"We plan for the future because we remember cases when something went wrong, and then we prepare for the next time."

His team's study appears in today's issue of the journal Science.

Tool Tests

The first of Call's experiments involved five orangutans and five bonobos, long-limbed cousins of chimpanzees.

Continued on Next Page >>


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