Gorillas were seen for the first time using simple tools to perform tasks in the wild in 2005.
Scientists observed gorillas in a remote Congolese forest using sticks to test the depth of muddy water and to cross swampy areas.
“We’ve been observing gorillas for 10 years here, and we have two cases of them using detached objects as tools.” said Thomas Breuer, from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), who headed the study team in Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in the Republic of Congo.
“In the first case, we had a female crossing a pool; and this female has crossed this pool by using a detached stick and testing the water depth, and trying to use it as a walking stick.” said Breuer.
The second case saw another female gorilla pick up the trunk of a dead shrub and use it to lean on while dredging for food in a swamp. She then placed the trunk down on the swampy ground and used it as a bridge. “What’s fascinating about these observations is the similarity between what these creatures have done, and what we do in the context of crossing a pond.” observed Dr Breuer. “The most astonishing thing is that we have observed them using tools not for obtaining food, but for postural support.”
This discovery made the gorilla the last of the great apes to be documented using tools in the wild.
These studies reinforce the notion that tool use began long before humans walked the planet. Humans, chimps, and orang-utans all used wood and bone tools, suggesting that tool use originated with a common ancestor more than 12 million years ago. Julio Mercader, a George Washington University anthropologist believes that this may be a trait that humans also inherited from a common ancestor. Crickette Sanz said: “Humans are extraordinary tool users. Examining these behaviors in our closest living relatives provides insights into the material culture and social traditions of our species. As these forests vanish so do our opportunities to document the unique cultures that reside within them. We are quickly losing these apes that we hardly know.”
Call thinks it’s possible still other animals, aside from chimps, birds and humans, make tools and continue to improve upon their design. He said: “I do not see why other species, if the ecological demands are right, could not invent the use of simple technologies.”
Picture Credit: Raul654 (Wiki Commons User)
- Breuer T, Ndoundou-Hockemba M and Fishlock V 2005 First Observation of Tool Use in Wild Gorillas. PLoS Biol 3(11): e380. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0030380