Courtesy bradypus courtesy of wikimedia.orgThe famous Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology recently released a new study showing bonobos (Pan paniscus), a species of chimpanzee, communicating their disapproval by shaking their heads side-to-side as if to say NO. This may seem rather simple and uneventful, but until now, there has been no observed behavior in chimps or bonobos that indicates a negative context. Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and bonobos are known to use other head gestures like bowing and shaking up and down to communicate with group members, but the side-to-side NO gesture is actually considered quite sophisticated and ingrained in human culture. This simple gesture is recognizable in most, but not all cultures.
I recently finished up a semester teaching Evolution and many of my students commented on how interesting they found our ape relative the bonobo. Many had never heard of them and were surprised at how similar they were to humans in behaviors and social structures. We frequently here about how closely related we are to the chimpanzee biologically, but culturally, the bonobo's social structure is actually more human-like than that of our chimp cousin. The bonobos have extremely egalitarian and cooperative societies with a rather unusual “loving” way of diffusing social tensions (suffice to say there is a reason why bonobos are not found in most American zoos!) This new study brings us a little closer to our ape cousins and maybe we can learn a few lessons from them in these times of conflict. Unfortunately, these gentle creatures are endangered and need our help. Check out this website for more on Bonobo Conservation.
Courtesy tim ellisA dozen years ago guards at a Swedish prison north of Stockholm discovered a secret cache of weapons hoarded by an inmate named Santino. Certain that some kind of trouble was brewing, prison officials put the otherwise model prisoner under close observation. And it was fortunate they did. Santino was observed several times using his rock arsenal as missiles that he hurled at visitors to the prison. No one was seriously injured in the assault and Santino was disciplined for his actions. But since then subsequent lockdowns have resulted in the discovery and confiscation of hundreds of similar ammunition stockpiles in Santino’s cell. And officials fear the prisoner is planning other attacks.
Normally this wouldn’t be that unusual a scenario. Prison life can be difficult and sometimes the frustrations of incarceration cause detainees to act out against their captors and society in general.
But in this case the prison is actually a zoo and the trouble-making prisoner is a chimpanzee.
When the male chimp’s weapons cache was first discovered, zoo officials called in Mathias Osvath, a cognitive scientist from Sweden’s Lund University and Santino’s behavior was monitored closely. Not only was the 31 year-old ape observed throwing stones at zoo visitors, but was he also observed searching out weaknesses in the walls of his enclosure, digging out loosened chunks of concrete, and hiding them for future barrages.
"These observations convincingly show that our fellow apes do consider the future in a very complex way," Osvath said. "It implies that they have a highly developed consciousness, including lifelike mental simulations of potential events."
And if that’s not disturbing enough:
“It could be that he is a genius, only more research will tell. On the other hand our research showed the same in orangutans and bonobos so he is not alone," said Joseph Call, a co-author of the study, which appeared in the journal Current Biology.
Oh, Santino’s a genius all right – an evil genius – and one with a nasty grudge against humanity.
“It is extremely frustrating for him that there are people out of his reach who are pointing at him and laughing," Osvath said. "It cannot be good to be so furious all the time."
Remember that TV show from a few years ago - Are You Hot?
Well, in the world of chimpanzees, who's hot isn't the same as what most human males classify as hot.
The latest issue of Current Biology includes research findings that most male chimps find the older females of their species more attractive for mating than younger female chimps.
"Although it's easy to imagine that male chimps would like to mate with whatever female is available, it turns out they really have strong preferences" for the older females, says anthropologist Martin Muller of Boston University, the lead author of the study. "We've seen them just ignoring younger females who are all over them."
The findings are based on eight years of watching chimps in Uganda. Chimp males are not too subtle in their courting rituals, so researchers clearly knew what was going on when they were selecting their mates. In the majority of cases, they'd prefer an older female over a younger female if they had a choice among who to mate with.
Why to they have such different tastes than their male counterparts of the human species?
One big difference is that female chimps never go through menopause, which could lead male chimps to consider them to be more experienced mothers and better caregivers for their offspring. And among many mammal species, fertility rates tend to be higher among middle-aged females than younger females.
Scientists have long suspected that AIDS originated from wild chimpanzees, but until recently this was merely speculation. Both Nature and National Geographic report that simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), a viral strain remarkably similar to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), was discovered in wild chimpanzees of the sub species Pan troglodytes troglodytes in the jungles of the African country of Cameroon.
Previous to this discovery, there were reported cases of SIV in captive chimpanzees, but researchers knew they needed evidence from wild chimps to prove these apes were in fact a direct link to the human AIDS pandemic. Now they have it.
Beatrice Hahn of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, a key researcher on this project, thinks that it is likely that HIV in humans was contracted from SIV in chimpanzees when humans were exposed to chimp blood during the processing of hunted bushmeat.
Since HIV and SIV are so genetically similar, it is likely that humans contracted the virus from chimps who initially contracted it from monkeys rather than both humans and chimps contracting the virus directly from monkeys which was previously thought.