Chimpanzees That Travel Long Distances Are More Adept Tool Users

A group of tool-using chimpanzees within Kibale National Park. Credit: Andrew Bernard

It is now well-established that chimpanzees entered the Stone Age no less than 4,300 years ago. That’s right – they’ve been using stone, stick, and leaf-based tools for millennia, from around the time of the rule of the pharaohs in Egypt’s Old Kingdom.

Now, a new study published in the journal eLife reveals how well adapted to tool use chimpanzees really are. As it turns out, chimpanzees who are keener to explore the world are more frequent tool users, suggesting that chimpanzees who travel really do broaden their horizons.

Observing chimpanzees in the wild, and comparing their tendencies to lounge around or wander the realm of the Budongo Forest in Uganda, the team of researchers noticed that more chimpanzees use tools to engage in foraging when they become aware that high-energy foods are being rapidly depleted in their local area. However, those that travel as a matter of habit acquire new foraging techniques far quicker.

“So basically, when you have had a really bad time for a while in terms of finding your food, and that you get the additional travel on top of it, this makes you the most likely to use a tool,” lead author Thibaud Gruber, a zoological cognitive researcher from the University of Geneva, told IFLScience.

“Interestingly, there is a convergence with recent theories of modern human-like bipedalism, which is believed to have evolved in part because it is less costly energetically speaking than chimpanzee quadrupedalism,” Gruber noted. “In the end, both bipedalism and tool use could have co-evolved as strategies with the same goal: reducing energetic expenditures.”

The forests of Uganda. Arjen de Ruiter/Shutterstock

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