Researchers from the Anglia Ruskin University and the University of Neuchatel in Switzerland are now researching a new socio-cultural development that allows the development of reusable tools among chimps in the wild. A pack of chimps were filmed making a leaf sponge that they dip in water and then suck up the water from the sponge, and then funnily, the practice spreads among other chimps in the pack and they all started using the sponge to drink water.

A particular chimp was even observed reusing an old sponge that had been discarded by another chimp to drink water, and the amazing thing is how soon and wide this social learning practice spreads among the chimps. And according to Dr. Catherine Hobaiter, the lead researcher from the University of St. Andrews, “we were insanely lucky. We saw two new versions of this tool use emerge in the chimps. It might sound trivial, but the chimps just don’t do that…and both of these new versions of the tool use started at this water hole that we had amazing filming access at. Basically, if you saw it done, you learned how to do it, and if you didn’t you didn’t. It was just this wonderfully clear example of social learning that no one had in the wild before. We’ve had that in captivity, we’ve had indications in the wild, but this was the final little piece of the puzzle.”

“With respect to humans, our findings strongly support the idea that the last common ancestors of chimps and humans could learn cultural behaviours from each other, in a similar way,” says Dr. Thibaud Gruber of the University of Neuchatel. And Dr. Susanne Schultz says “we know form captivity that they are more than capable. But there are so few studies that can demonstrate its utility in the wild, and for this reason this paper is a big step forward.”

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