Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Scientists scratch heads over tool-using gorillas

An infant gorilla in a Democratic Republic of Congo sanctuary is smashing palm nuts between two rocks to extract oil, surprising and intriguing scientists who say they have much to learn about what gorillas can do -- and about what that says about evolution.

It had been thought that the premeditated use of stones and sticks to accomplish a task like cracking nuts was restricted to humans and the smaller, more agile chimpanzees.

Then in late September, keepers at a Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International sanctuary in this eastern Congo city saw two-and-a-half-year-old female gorilla Itebero smashing palm nuts between rocks in the "hammer and anvil" technique, considered among the most complex tool use behaviours.

"This is a surprising finding, given what we know about tool use in gorillas," Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund primatologist Patrick Mehlman said earlier this month at his Goma office.

Mehlman said that the finding indicates that complex tool use may not be a trait developed only by humans and chimpanzees, and could have its origins earlier in the evolutionary chain, among ancestors common to both humans and our closest relatives the great apes.


Story here.

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