Complex tool sets for honey extraction among chimpanzees in Loango National Park, Gabon

  • Boesch C
  • Head J
  • Robbins M
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Abstract

Homo faber was once proposed as a label for humans specifically to highlight their unique propensity for tool use. However, new observations on complex tool use by the chimpanzees of Loango National Park, Gabon, expand our knowledge about tool-using abilities in Pan troglodytes. Chimpanzees in Loango, when using tools to extract honey from three types of bee nests, were observed to regularly use three- to five-element tool sets. In other words, different types of tools were used sequentially to access a single food source. Such tool sets included multi-function tools that present typical wear for two distinct uses. In addition, chimpanzees exploited underground bee nests and used ground-perforating tools to locate nest chambers that were not visible from the ground surface. These new observations concur with others from Central African chimpanzees to highlight the importance of honey extraction in arguments favoring the emergence of complex tool use in hominoids, including different tool types, expanded tool sets, multifunction tools, and the exploitation of underground resources. This last technique requires sophisticated cognitive abilities concerning unseen objects. A sequential analysis reveals a higher level of complexity in honey extraction than previously proposed for nut cracking or hunting tools, and compares with some technologies attributed to early hominins from the Early and Middle Stone Age. A better understanding of similarities in human and chimpanzee tool use will allow for a greater understanding of tool-using skills that are uniquely human. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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Authors

  • Christophe Boesch

  • Josephine Head

  • Martha M. Robbins

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