Stories tagged Jane Goodall

May
16
2010

Bonobo: Latin name:  Pan paniscus
Bonobo: Latin name: Pan paniscusCourtesy bradypus courtesy of wikimedia.org
The famous Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology recently released a new study showing bonobos (Pan paniscus), a species of chimpanzee, communicating their disapproval by shaking their heads side-to-side as if to say NO. This may seem rather simple and uneventful, but until now, there has been no observed behavior in chimps or bonobos that indicates a negative context. Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and bonobos are known to use other head gestures like bowing and shaking up and down to communicate with group members, but the side-to-side NO gesture is actually considered quite sophisticated and ingrained in human culture. This simple gesture is recognizable in most, but not all cultures.

I recently finished up a semester teaching Evolution and many of my students commented on how interesting they found our ape relative the bonobo. Many had never heard of them and were surprised at how similar they were to humans in behaviors and social structures. We frequently here about how closely related we are to the chimpanzee biologically, but culturally, the bonobo's social structure is actually more human-like than that of our chimp cousin. The bonobos have extremely egalitarian and cooperative societies with a rather unusual “loving” way of diffusing social tensions (suffice to say there is a reason why bonobos are not found in most American zoos!) This new study brings us a little closer to our ape cousins and maybe we can learn a few lessons from them in these times of conflict. Unfortunately, these gentle creatures are endangered and need our help. Check out this website for more on Bonobo Conservation.

Jane Goodall, the internationally-known chimp researcher, will be making a pair of public appreances at the University of Minnesota on Saturday. Here's a link to the details. Both events are free and open to the public.

Oct
13
2005


Gorilla: A gorilla chewing some food.

Biologists working in the rainforest of Africa have documented gorillas using simple tools, such as using a branch to dig for food.

For a long time, scientists thought only humans used tools. In 1960, Jane Goodall observed chimpanzees using tools in the wild—the first non-human species known to use tools. In 1993, Caral van Schaik of Duke University found tool use among orangutans on Borneo. Now, we can add gorillas to the list of tool-using primates.

Humans and gorillas last shared a common ancestor some 5 to 8 million years ago. Apparently, tool-use evolved sometime before then, and has been inherited by both species. Researchers say this discovery will help us understand the evolution of the human species, and the human brain.