You might think that thieves would give their best efforts not to get caught red-handed, but new observations have shown that a group of daredevil chimps in Uganda are anything but clandestine during their light-fingered activities. According to researchers, this dicey behavior may have been prompted by human activities, such as deforestation, which are forcing the animals to find new ways to adapt to pressures on their habitat.
When humans destroy the habitats of various species to make way for agriculture and settlements, animals are forced to leave their usual environments to find new homes and food sources. Because humans want to guard their resources, such as valuable crops, they sometimes kill animals that venture into their land in order to deter raiding. Since chimpanzees have high cognitive abilities, researchers hypothesized that these animals would be strategic when making trips out of their forest habitat into dangerous areas in order to avoid detection and conflict.
To investigate this further, scientists from the National Museum of Natural History in Paris observed chimps living in habitats encroached by humans. To do this, the team placed video cameras around Kibale National Park in Uganda. The equipment was directed at the edges of the chimpanzees’ forest habitat which was bordered by a maize plantation.
As described in PLOS ONE, the researchers captured a total of 14 crop raids, but the behaviors observed were far from what they expected. Chimpanzees normally stick together in small groups of three, but the researchers found as many as eight partaking in raids at any one time. Even vulnerable group members ventured out to the plantation, such as badly injured individuals and females with infants clinging onto them. Furthermore, their behavior suggested that they didn’t consider the incursions to be risky. They made no effort to be quick or quiet, showed few signs of vigilance such as looking around, and some even stopped to copulate. Check out some videos of the chimps here:
Interestingly, the researchers even observed the chimps raiding the maize field at night time. This was unusual not only because chimps are diurnal (active during the day), but also because predators are often prowling at night. Although nocturnal activities have been observed before in chimpanzees, these took place during full moons. This time, however, the chimps ventured out in total darkness. This is possibly because humans have driven out the main nocturnal predators of chimpanzees, leopards, meaning that they no longer represent a threat.
According to the researchers, these behaviors demonstrate that despite the fact that the chimpanzees’ habitat has been severely disturbed, the animals are proving to be impressively flexible. The newly observed behaviors, such as improved group cooperation and nocturnal activities, allow the chimps to take advantage of nearby, high-quality food sources which are lacking in their destroyed habitat.
The researchers hope that these new findings can be used to create recommendations for both farmers and park authorities in order to reduce conflicts between humans and chimpanzees.
[Via PLOS ONE, BBC News, New Scientist and Live Science]