Planet Earth

To Get at Treats, This Dingo Uses Tools

80beatsBy Veronique GreenwoodFeb 24, 2012 8:44 PM

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http://youtu.be/oLxXDiFLkJ0 Dingoes are in the news lately: the infamous "a dingo ate my baby" case may be nearing its conclusion, 32 years after an Australian baby disappeared on a family camping trip; her mother, who long claimed the baby was stolen by a dingo, has been vindicated by an inquest this week noting that dingo attacks on humans have been well-documented in the intervening decades. But dingoes can use their cleverness for less gruesome purposes, as well. What is apparently the first tool use in a canid was observed recently, in a dingo named Sterling who really, really wanted to chew on something out of his reach. As you can see in the video above, Sterling is trying to get a hold of a piece of food placed on his enclosure at the Dingo Discovery Research Center in Australia, after researchers caught him on tape yanking down a name tag from the same location. He has never been trained in any similar tasks, as far as the researchers know, but after jumping fails to get him close enough, he heads off to the back of the enclosure and hooks his teeth around the leg of a white table. Then the table begins to move, as Sterling pulls it towards the front of the enclosure. Once he gets it near the front, one of his compatriots jumps on, but then stands around doing nothing. Sterling hops on, pushes the offender out of the way, and, after several false starts, manages to walk his forelegs across the wire mesh to bring the food within his reach. He promptly tears his prize to the ground. Sterling's use of the table---and his similar use of a barrel to get over the enclosure wall, perhaps to chase after some females---is a fascinating example of a creature not previously known to use tools making use of objects around him to get what he wants. The researchers can't be sure that Sterling's behavior is something that dingos as a species do, or whether it is something he picked up living in the sanctuary, but if further observations find that such behavior is natural, dingoes may be joining crows and dolphins in the select club of animals that use tools. [via The Thoughtful Animal]

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