Chimps Dig Tubers, Tool Study Finds

<< Back to Page 1   Page 2 of 2

John Kappelman, a professor of anthropology at the University of Texas, says the new discovery supports that theory.

Thirty years ago, Kappelman said by email, he and a colleague "hypothesized that these belowground plant parts would have offered a rich food resource for early humans who were living in dry seasonal habitats such as bushland and savanna.

"Before that, [yam expert] D. G. Coursey suggested that even the crudest form of a digging tool would have put early humans at a marked evolutionary advantage for exploiting these foods," Kappelman added.

"Well, this new work proves Coursey right, because the tools used by these chimpanzees are as simple as simple can be. And because they consist of thin pieces of wood, [they] are unlikely to be the sort of thing that would be preserved in the fossil record."

Breaking Barriers

Previously, humans were thought to be the only primates to dig up tubers using tools—just as humans were once thought to be the only primates to use tools at all.

Jill Pruetz, an Iowa State University primate researcher not affiliated with the new study, said "it suggests to me that we will continue to redefine humans as we find more out about other species, especially our closest living relatives.

"I wouldn't be surprised to hear about more of these kinds of 'discoveries'—ones that cause us to rethink our definition of what a human is."

(Pruetz made headlines earlier this year with her discovery that chimps make "spears" to hunt other mammals.)

Chimps at Risk

The chimps at Ugalla, the study authors say, face environmental challenges similar to those of our human ancestors about five million years ago, when a changing climate delivered a hit to their forests.

But there are other more immediate factors that could be contributing to the Ugalla chimps' decline.

Ugalla is adjacent to several camps housing people from Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi. These refugees may be responsible for heavy poaching reported in the last five years, study co-author Moore said.

Additionally, a proposed new major road will make travel in the region much easier, and "such roads almost always increase pressure on wildlife," Moore said.

"If the refugees are repatriated to their home countries soon and development along the road is regulated, the area is in decent shape and wildlife will recover," he added.

"If those things don't happen, the outlook isn't good."

Free Email News Updates
Sign up for our Inside National Geographic newsletter. Every two weeks we'll send you our top stories and pictures (see sample).

<< Back to Page 1   Page 2 of 2


SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES

ADVERTISEMENT

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC'S PHOTO OF THE DAY

NEWS FEEDS     After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.   After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.

Get our news delivered directly to your desktop—free.
How to Use XML or RSS

National Geographic Daily News To-Go

Listen to your favorite National Geographic news daily, anytime, anywhere from your mobile phone. No wires or syncing. Download Stitcher free today.
Click here to get 12 months of National Geographic Magazine for $15.