As it turns out, humans are not the only primates that are great at using tools.
While tool use has been observed in individual apes in captivity before, a new Israeli study reveals that the endangered bonobo is pretty good at not only using tools but also making them.
University of Haifa researcher Itai Roffman and his team studied the tool behavior of bonobos in hopes to learn more about how Oldowan hominins, -a group of early humans dating back from 2.7 million and 1.5 million and the earliest of the Paleolithic tool users – may have exploited tools.
“The bonobos’ foraging techniques resembled some of those attributed to Oldowan hominins, implying that they can serve as referential models.” Roffman’s team explained in their study, recently published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.
The team also noted that bonobos use natural materials in ways that resembled human tool use.
“Antlers, short sticks, long sticks and rocks were effectively used as mattocks, daggers, levers and shovels, respectively,” Roffman said, pointing out one bonobo even threatened the researchers with a sharpened stick.
Most remarkably, however, the bonobos not only used found objects in their environment as tools, but they also modified objects to fit their specific needs.
“One bonobo successively struck a long bone with an angular hammer stone, completely bisecting it longitudinally. Another bonobo modified long branches into spears and used them as attack weapons and barriers,” the Israeli team said.
The bonobos studied all lived in captivity and US and German zoos, and according to researchers, this may have made a difference in the findings, especially since the captive animals live in a more secure environment and thus have more time to experiment with tools.
While this means wild bonobos may not use tools in the same way as their captive counterparts, it does show that bonobos have the mental capacity for more sophisticated tool use that previously believed.
As a result, the Israeli researchers are confident that the study reveals important information about the development of tool use in humans and possibly even suggests tool use goes further back on the evolutionary chain than previously thought.