Planet Earth

#80: Chimps Plan Ahead. (Plan #1: Throw Rocks at Humans.)

“Santino has a great time scaring visitors, and as the group’s dominant male, he is showing the other chimps that he can protect them.”

By Jane BosveldDec 21, 2009 6:00 AM
Chimps feast on red colobus monkey in Kigoma, Tanzania. | kibuyu via Flickr


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As a group, humans know how to think about the future. We are the species of agendas, delayed gratification, and five-year plans. But this year two studies found that chimpanzees premeditate too.

In one study, a chimp named Santino—the dominant male at Furuvik Zoo in Gävle, Sweden—was observed collecting and piling caches of stones, then returning later to hurl them at people who had come to look at him. Mathias Osvath, a cognitive scientist at Lund University in Sweden, posits that Santino may be showing off his strength to human visitors and other chimps. “He has a great time scaring visitors,” Osvath says, “and as the group’s dominant male, he is showing the other chimps that he can protect them.”

A kind of Darwinian quest for survival underlies the second thread of evidence as well. That study comes from behavioral ecologist Christophe Boesch of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, who spent years observing wild chimpanzees in the Taï National Park in Côte d’Ivoire. Boesch and his fellow researchers found that male chimps frequently had sex with the females they had previously shared meat with, thus increasing their mating success. The female chimps, for their part, thrived because of their increased caloric intake. The way the chimps hoard food makes Boesch suspect that the animals plot such trades ahead of time. “But we want to know more about their planning abilities,” he says. “How long ahead and how detailed is this planning, and is there some kind of hierarchical way that they plan?”

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