Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Chimps mentally map fruit trees


Chimps are amazing.

Current research being conducted on chimpanzees living in The National Park of the Cote d'Ivoire suggest one overarching principle: chimpanzees possess immensely brilliant cognitive abilities.

Studying chimpanzee's navigation abilities to food sources, observations indicate that chimpanzees are able to locate a single tree from among 12500 trees that, to human perception, look more or less identical. The trees that they approach were not usually ones that visibly appear most abundant, but ones that over time, prove to have the rarest best fruit and consistent productivity. Interestingly, chimps traveled directly to these trees, ruling out the possibility that they used purely spatial or olfactory memory to cognitively map their locations. Furthermore, the chimps would visit these fruit trees on a consistent and regular schedule. The visitation schedule further indicated that the chimps were able to recall when the fruits on the trees would be in season and thus encouraging them to travel longer distance, albeit directly, to reach bountiful, in-season trees rather than less productive ones in closer proximity. Such behavior suggests that outstanding navigating abilities to food sources are innate in chimpanzees.

The study was conducted by first, mapping the location of 12500 in the The National Park forest. Then, specific chimpanzees were tracked and their food scavenging paths were tracked and mapped as well. Specific information to the type and season of the trees as well as the gender and age of chimpanzees were also records in hopes of finding some correlation among them. Compiling the data revealed chimpanzee's intriguing and astounding food scavenging abilities and behavior.

Personally, wow. I'm always amazed by the innate behavior of other species that humans can't match. The belief that we are the most dominant species pervades our society yet there are certain abilities of animals and plants that I believe we just can't replicate, no matter how much we advance our technology. Or even if we are able to replicate it using science and technology, a lag would still exist between its efficiency and that of the animal's innate ability.

My personal question for this study is how long these abilities have been around for and how much they have developed in regards to a specific period of time. This is a consistent thought I have when I hear about awesome findings in behavioral sciences. It would be so interesting to discover that this is a newly attain ability for the chimpanzees and that forces of nature or the unexplainable, metaphorically speaking, just dealt them an awesome hand.

Regarding the actual experiment, I am impressed by its comprehensiveness and the environmentalist part of me is excited to learn about yet another reason to protect our forests and wildlife. By using the entire National Park as the laboratory, the experiment indirectly maintains the surveillance and protection of the forest from loggers. By monitoring the monkeys, poachers are kept at bay to some extent. This study disproves the notion that animal rights and scientific research generate nothing but exploitation at the cost of the former.


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