October 19, 2009—Without having been trained to do so, chimps in a Japanese study helped their fellow apes access elusive juice. The researchers say this adds to evidence that chimps are more similar to humans than previously thought.
© 2009 National Geographic (AP)
Japanese researchers claim that chimpanzees are capable of human-like altruism.
Kyoto University's Primate Research Institute published their findings in the scientific and medical research journal PLoS ONE.
12 chimpanzees were used in the experimentssix of them were mother/offspring pairs.
The scientists claim that the tests showed the chimpanzees, particularly the mother/offspring pairs, helping each other selflessly.
SOUNDBITE (Japanese) Shinya Yamamoto, Tokyo University:
"As a difference between humans and chimpanzees, it is considered humans act spontaneously in an altruistic way. But this result poses a question."
Yamamoto said that in some of the experiments chimps were filmed passing sticks or straws to other chimps.
The sticks were then used to reach straws otherwise out of reach, or, in the case of the passed straw, to drink juice.
Yamamoto said the chimps were trained to use sticks to drag straws placed out of reach and to use straws to drink juice. But he claimed the transferring of the sticks or straws to other chimps was not trained.
The Institute reported that pairs of primates passed the items to each other 59 percent of the time, even though the action did not benefit both of them.
Yamamoto noted that the passing of items occurred more often when a chimp appeared to make a request for the straw or stick.
In those instances, he said, transfers were made 75 percent of the time.
One leading animal behavior researcher believes these results show chimps and humans are more alike than previously thought.
SOUNDBITE (Japanese) Toshikazu Hasegawa, Animal Behavior Expert, Tokyo University:
"Although chimpanzees and humans are almost the same animals if you look at the composition of DNA, we normally think that humans create higher social systems by helping each other. So, we normally think there is a wide gap between humans and chimps. But the result of this experience filled the gap between two species. The results showed that chimps also have humanity in their behavior."
It's not the first time researchers have claimed to witness altruism in chimps.
German researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology reported similar results in 2007.