Science news: Chimps are mean, sneaky bastards

Swedish zoo chimp hoards, then hides rocks to throw at surprised visitors

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In fact, chimps can be complete bastards, and not just because Santino wants to lure helpless women and children into range of his terrible pitching.

A 2010 study titled Chimpanzees Extract Social Information from Agonistic Screams, for example documents chimps' ability to extract useful information about social situations that are out of their sight. According to the paper, one chimp can listen to the screams of a another chimp being abused by a larger member of the troupe, or eaten by a predator, and figure exactly what the fight is about or the social context the victimized chimp had been enjoying when something bigger came along to eat it.

Another, from 2009, documents the willingness of chimps to help other chimps when they're asked to do so.

That open-mindedness prompted a lot of discussion about the existence and quality of altruism in chimpanzees. Intensifying the discussion were studies published around the same time that documented budding altruistic tendencies in human toddlers.

A third, using 18 separate incidents in which chimps big enough and formidable enough to be able to do what they want chose to adopt the infant or toddler offspring of another member of the troupe, after he or she died.

Helping another chimp to move, or go to a relative's community theater presentation when neither of you wants to see is definitely altruistic behavior. It doesn't really compare to the willingness to adopt a child who will need to be fed and cared for and eventually sent to chimp college, though.

That's a whole different level of emotional and cognitive complexity – levels far beyond those we usually give animals credit for being able to reach.

Photo Credit: 

Mathias Osvath, Current Biology(journal)

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