Project Nim

Back in 2008 I wrote a book review of Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human There are a number of stories in the Guardian concerning a documentary, based on the book, on the subject. First, Peter Singer reviews the film. Second, Carole Jahme interviews special effects artist Pauline Fowler. Finally, there is a picture gallery.

Do Chimpanzees Mourn For Their Dead?

Note: The next addition of the Four Stone hearth will at This is Serious Monkey Business on February 2nd. Pleas get your submissions in!

That seems to be the way the press is portraying the video below. The video was released in conjunction with an article published in the American Journal of Primatology (the article can also be found here) Continue reading

Sex Differences in Chimpanzee Use of Play Objects

I will be hosting the Four Stone Hearth on 1/05/11. Please send my your submissions! In the meantime, I am looking for hosts for dates in February and March. If you are interested in hosting drop me a line (my email address is on the “About” tab).

Current Biology has and interesting paper called Sex differences in chimpanzees’ use of sticks as play objects resemble those of children. The paper, by Kahlenberg and Wrangham, reports on male and female play with sticks. The study involved chimpanzees of the Kanyawara community at Kibale National Park in Uganda. Continue reading

Contagious Yawning In Chimpanzees Caused By Animation

I first became interested in the subject of yawning based on this NPR story. The idea that yawning is contagious is not a new idea. Of course, dogs do yawn in response to humans, as do primates. But do they yawn in response to a video?
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Chimpanzee Tool Use: Ants, Termites, and Bee’s Nests

Science Daily has an interesting item, Chimpanzees Develop ‘Specialized Tool Kits’ To Catch Army Ants, that discusses research into tool use in chimpanzee ant catching behavior.

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Chimpanzee Tool Kits

The Discovery Channel website has an interesting story on chimpanzee tool kits :

For this latest study, however, Boesch and colleagues Josephine Head and Martha Robbins observed chimpanzees at Loango National Park on the coast of Gabon, Africa. They identified at least five different types of chimp-made honey extraction tools used in sequence.

The tools consist of pounders, enlargers, collectors, perforators and swabbers. Chimps, suspended in acrobatic positions on branches, might first pull out a thick stick pounder to break open beehive entrances. They then reach for another stick, the enlarger, to perforate and widen different honeybee hive compartments. Next comes the collector, used to dip or scoop out honey.

Different tools and methods are needed to obtain underground bee honey. The chimps wield a perforator to penetrate the ground, locate a honey chamber and dig into the soil. They then pull off strips of bark to “dip and spoon the honey out of the opened beehive.”

Obtaining honey from an underground hive isn’t easy. Aside from dealing with angry, stinging bees, the chimps must dig narrow sideways tunnels, maintain perfect aim and prevent soil from falling into, and ruining, their desired sweet reward.

Apparently, the study (being published in the Journal of Human Evolution) also compares chimp toolkits with those “stone age human techologies.”

(This post published via email)

Chimps, Dogs, Or Ants: Which is a Better Model For Human Sociality

Over at UD Denyse O’Leary is all twitterpated over this news story. The news item concerns a paper accepted for publication in the journal Advances in the Study of Behavior. The paper hasn’t been published yet, so we are dependent on MSNBC for details:

Lead author Jozsef Topal explained to Discovery News “that shared environment has led to the emergence of functionally shared behavioral features in dogs and humans and, in some cases, functionally analogous underlying cognitive skills.”


“In my view, pet dogs can be regarded in many respects as ‘preverbal infants in canine’s clothing,'” he said, adding that many dog-owner relationships mirror human parental bonds with children.
In one of many recent studies conducted by the team, Topal and his colleagues taught both a 16-month-old human child and mature dogs to repeat multiple demonstrated actions on verbal command — “Do it!,” shouted in Hungarian.

The idea that dogs might serve as models of human behavior is not a new idea. Dogs, like humans are highly social animals that evolved from other highly social animals. For example, one line of research looks at the ability of dogs and wolves to perceive and act on cues provided by humans (turns out wolves don’t pay that much attention to cues provided by humans).
Of course, other animal models have been suggested:

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Pathology of Chimpanzee Skeletons At Kibale

Paleopathology, for all practical purposes, is the study of the diseases and traumas that affect humans in the past. Necessarily, it is restricted to the study of the skeleton which severely limits the scope of what diseases can be studied. Even with that restriction a wide variety of questions can be addressed. We can, for example, ask how the change in lifestyle from hunter-gatherer to agriculturalist impacted human health. Or we can look at disease patterning in a given lifestyle. We can also look at whether disease and trauma differentially affect a given group such as young versus old or male versus female.
Since chimpanzees are our closest living relatives, understanding the diseases and traumas that impact the chimp skeleton might shed some light on human evolution. We can ask, for example, what selective factors impact chimpanzees It goes without saying that it would also be helpful to conservation biologists as well. There is a growing body of literature on the subject.

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Interesting Chimpanzee Videos

The recent chimp hissy fit thrown by the residents at UD reminded me of some videos I wanted to post…

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Chimpanzees Should Never Be Pets!

They occasionally signed a few words to each other, although Byrne had often said that sign language was irrelevant to their relationship. From time to time Byrne believed that their discussions, however they communicated, verged on the philosophical. It was as if Nim was questioning Byrne, asking him over and over, “Why am I here? Why am I locked in this cage?” Byrne had thought seriously about the answer to that question. He concluded that Nim was not asking to escape but making a more poignant comment on the injustice of his captivity. – from Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human
I have been without DSL for the last couple of days – according to the repairman it is because squirrels and telephone wires do not mix. The problem was fixed earlier today. In catching up one of the posts I noticed was an excellent post, by Sheril Kirshenbaum, on keeping chimpanzees as pets (I hope this post means Sheril is feeling better).

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