Chimpanzees Hunt Bush Babies With Spears

Some people without a background in science have difficulty with evolution because they see apes and humans as too different to be related (or more accurately, to have a common ancestor). DNA studies have already shown how similar humans and chimpanzees are, but now we see that their behavior is closer to human behavior than previously realized:

Chimpanzees have been seen using spears to hunt bush babies, U.S. researchers said on Thursday in a study that demonstrates a whole new level of tool use and planning by our closest living relatives.

Perhaps even more intriguing, it was only the females who fashioned and used the wooden spears, Jill Pruetz and Paco Bertolani of Iowa State University reported.

Bertolani saw an adolescent female chimp use a spear to stab a bush baby as it slept in a tree hollow, pull it out and eat it.

Pruetz and Bertolani, now at Cambridge University in Britain, had been watching the Fongoli community of savanna-dwelling chimpanzees in southeastern Senegal.

The chimps apparently had to invent new ways to gather food because they live in an unusual area for their species, the researchers report in the journal Current Biology.

“This is just an innovative way of having to make up for a pretty harsh environment,” Pruetz said in a telephone interview. The chimps must come down from trees to gather food and rest in dry caves during the hot season.

“It is similar to what we say about early hominids that lived maybe 6 million years ago and were basically the precursors to humans.”

Chimpanzees are genetically the closest living relatives to human beings, sharing more than 98 percent of our DNA. Scientists believe the precursors to chimps and humans split off from a common ancestor about 7 million years ago.

Chimps are known to use tools to crack open nuts and fish for termites. Some birds use tools, as do other animals such as gorillas, orangutans and even naked mole rats.

But the sophisticated use of a tool to hunt with had never been seen.

Pruetz thought it was a fluke when Bertolani saw the adolescent female hunt and kill the bush baby, a tiny nocturnal primate.

But then she saw almost the same thing. “I saw the behavior over the course of 19 days almost daily,” she said.

The article continues to describe how the chimps showed evidence of planning and foresight. Meanwhile, Shakespeare’s Sister has fun with the facts that 1) they were hunting Bush Babies, and 2) it was the females who were doing the hunting. If only we were smart enough to hunt down those Bush babies before they did all their damage.

Update: More at Washington Post

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