Among other findings, a bonobo was observed for the first time making and using spears in a social setting for the purpose of attack and defense. “I believe that the current study will break down our cultural hang-up as humans concerning the inherent capabilities and potential of bonobos and chimpanzees,” says Itai Roffman of the Institute of Evolution at the University of Haifa, who undertook the study …
Interestingly, the bonobos are considered less sophisticated than their chimpanzee siblings. Chimpanzees have been observed in nature using branches to dig for tubers in the ground and to break into termite nests and beehives. As part of their cultural diversity, they have also been documented breaking nuts with hammer and anvil, and even manipulating branches into spears for use in hunting small prosimians that hide in tree hollows. By contrast, bonobos were known as a social species that engages in extensive sexual behavior and have not been observed in nature using tools. Roffman’s doctorate thesis (under the supervision of Professors Eviatar Nevo and Avraham Ronen of the University of Haifa) examines diverse pre-human/Homo characteristics among chimpanzees and bonobos. Three years ago, Roffman already managed to show that two bonobos were capable of preparing and using a range of early Homo type stone tools in order to reach inaccessible food in natural contexts. These two bonobos — famous siblings Kanzi and Pan-banisha — grew up in a human environment and have even learned to communicate using computerized English Lexigram symbols, allowing them to competently engage in rational discourse with humans.
Okay. As soon as someone starts talking about “our cultural hang-up as humans concerning the inherent capabilities and potential of bonobos and chimpanzees,” we had better check the wind sock.
Chimpanzees use tools, so do ravens, and a variety of other species. So, while bonobo tool use is an interesting find, it is not a major or unexpected discovery.
It’s not clear what “pre-agricultural” means, but if we could come back fifteen thousand years from now, bonobos will probably still be doing it the same say.
The bonobos are not engaging in “rational discourse” with humans. They are using a sign language taught to them by humans. Alex the parrot also learned that. The trouble is, none of these species invent, develop, or pass on such languages, probably because they do not need them except to communicate with humans.
It’s quite possible that friendly contact with humans plays a role in how easily bonobos adapt to tools. They have hands, after all, so it isn’t difficult for them to see in principle, what could be done. A variety of animals can be taught to manipulate objects; they tend to reach a plateau that meets their needs and then stop learning*. But it is fun while it lasts.
Note: We wish the authors would not use the term “cultural diversity” in these times. It tends to precious little asshats invading and demonstrating in campus libraries.
The bonobos are actually working for a living, and deserve every help and support.
See also: See also: Matching Darwin’s “Tree of Life,” the “Tree of Intelligence”
comes crashing down”
What can we hope to learn about animal minds?
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* Question: Did this octopus ever see a human open a jar?
Here’s the abstract:
Abstract…The competent and diverse tool-assisted extractive foraging by the bonobos corroborates and complements the extensive information on similar tool use by chimpanzees, suggesting that such competence is a shared trait. Better performance by the sanctuary bonobos than the zoo group was probably due to differences in their cultural exposure and housing conditions. The bonobos’ foraging techniques resembled some of those attributed to Oldowan hominins, implying that they can serve as referential models. Am J Phys Anthropol 158:78–91, 2015. © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. (paywall) – Itai Roffman, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, Elizabeth Rubert-Pugh, André Stadler, Avraham Ronen, Eviatar Nevo. Preparation and use of varied natural tools for extractive foraging by bonobos (Pan Paniscus). American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 2015; 158 (1): 78 DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.22778