It is common knowledge that chimpanzees are a species very closely related to humans, often being described as the sister group to the modern human lineage. Many of their behaviours run parallel with ours: the use of opposable thumbs to accomplish tasks; communication as a way of expressing emotions between members of their community and for warning rivals; the behavioural development of using tools such as sticks for digging termites and combining rocks and twigs for hunting smaller prey.
Research has been conducted in the past into the development of behaviour in wild chimpanzees, specifically the use of tools. Possibly some of the most important research undertaken was by primatologist Jane Goodall. The investigations she carried out in Gombe Stream National Park, including 22 months spent as a member of a troop of chimpanzees, managed to quell some of the common thoughts of the time. The main beliefs being that they were vegetarian and that humans were the only species to be able to construct and utilise tools.
Although Goodall witnessed peaceful and affectionate behaviours, other more dominant and aggressive activities were seen. For example, through using intelligence and ambush tactics, the chimpanzees systematically preyed on smaller primates such as Colobus and Galagos monkeys (bush babies). Also viewed in the national park was the utilisation of primitive tools. One example was a chimpanzee using blades of grass, dipping them into termite mounds and then “fishing” them out and eating the termites that had climbed onto the grass. Other materials, such as rocks and twigs, would be used to acquire nutrition from sources such as trees and from under the fallen leaves in the rainforest areas of the park.
More recently, a study has discovered a new cultural development in chimpanzees at a field station in the Budongo Forest in Uganda. A community of chimpanzees have been seen using mosses to absorb water and proceeding to drink from it. This has also been seen with the use of primitive leaf sponges. Individuals were witnessed using these implements and then discarding them. Shortly following this, other individuals of the same community were seen to reuse these tools, showing a sense of social learning within the community.
However, this was witnessed primarily with the moss sponges rather than the leafy sponges which is endemic to this particular community. This activity has been seen in captivity, but this social behaviour is the first of its kind to be seen in the wild.
The wider implications of observing this behaviour development could be that these social communities of chimpanzees may copy other behaviours shown by the alpha males. By being able to utilise tools such as those witnessed, they could adapt them to further uses, such as hunting in more advanced ways.