Studies reveal complex tool use by chimps in uganda


Recent studies by the Born Free-supported Bulindi Chimpanzee and Conservation Project (BCCP) in Uganda, have found chimpanzees in Bulindi demonstrate complex tool use to forage for honey from stingless bees.

Chimpanzees commonly use tools to forage for termites, ants, honey, nuts and other food items, with some populations showing particular propensity towards certain tools. Tool use in apes is learned socially and therefore a cultural behaviour. No two chimpanzee communities have yet been shown to possess identical tool repertoires. 

Born Free is thrilled to have supported such important studies that delve deeper into the use of tools by chimpanzees.

Dr Matt McLennan, BCCP’s Project Director, said: “The findings are really important for understanding variation in tool use behaviour in chimpanzees, but they also demonstrate that chimps in unprotected and degraded habitat can have strong ‘cultural value’ and deserve protection.”

BCCP discovered a second group of chimpanzees, the Mairirwe community, also use stick tools to breach the bee’s defences and access the honey. BCCP had previously discovered that the Bulindi community used sticks to forage for honey, but it was not clear if this was unique to this one group in the area. 

Stingless bees nest in both tree cavities and underground. Accessing honey stored up to a metre underground poses special physical and cognitive challenges. A chimpanzee must use sticks to dig into the ground to locate the hidden honey chamber. Not only is this type of tool use very complex, but this behaviour is highly unusual in chimpanzees of Uganda as many populations here show very limited tool repertoires. 

Camera trap images showed that chimpanzees in Mairirwe compete with humans for this underground resource, with local people using machetes to excavate the bee nests. 

Other studies have suggested that chimpanzees most impacted by human activities, especially habitat fragmentation, show reduced behavioural and cultural diversity. The Mairirwe chimpanzees are one of at least nine chimpanzee communities inhabiting a highly degraded and human-dominated habitat, Therefore, the studies’ findings go against expectation and highlight the need for conservation of this cultural chimpanzee community.

Watch the video to see how the Bulindi chimpanzees use tools.

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