Site update

Since I have been really terrible at updating the blog (but pretty good at keeping up with the facebook blog posts) I've added the widget below so that facebook cross posts to the blog.

You shouldn't need to join facebook but can just click on the links in the widget to access the articles. If you have any problems or comments please mail me at arandjel 'AT'

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Update from Northern DRC

Check out Cleve Hicks' report on his work with the chimpanzees from Bili, Aketi and surrounding areas in Northern DRC on the Wasmoeth Wildlife website. There are three e-books (around 50 pages each) of amazing images and heart wrenching details about the bushmeat crisis and mining activities in Northern DRC. Cleve has included information about the chimp surveys he has been conducting and the orphan chimpanzees that he has been confiscating (when he can), as well as many other aspects of his work in the area.
Despite the seemingly large number of chimps in Norther DRC, Wasmoeth Wildlife is the only NGO working there, so I encourage you to support them and Cleve by visiting their site.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Zoologic - a FutureShort film

Dir. Nicole Mitchell / USA / 2007
A penguin and gorilla team up to lead the other animals in a comedic revolution against a zoo keeper who just wont leave them alone.

Future Shorts is the largest short film organisation in the world, running mini film festivals in over 25 countries where over 25,000 people attend every month. They are also a distributon label and cinematic events company devoted to putting the excitement back into cinema. Future Shorts believes in the short film medium as a means of furthering cross cultural understanding through film. Their youtube channel channel brings you an eclectic mix of innovative, raw, fresh and inspiring films from here and yonder.

For more information visit their website at:

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

More complex tool use from the Goualougo chimpanzees

from BBCnews:
'Armed' chimps go wild for honey By Rebecca Morelle (Science reporter, BBC News)

Cameras have revealed how "armed" chimpanzees raid beehives to gorge on sweet honey.

Scientists in the Republic of Congo found that the wild primates crafted large clubs from branches to pound the nests until they broke open.

The team said some chimps would also use a "toolkit" of different wooden implements in a bid to access the honey and satisfy their sweet tooth.

The study is published in the International Journal of Primatology.

Crickette Sanz, from the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, said: "The nutritional returns don't seem to be that great.

"But their excitement when they've succeeded is incredible, you can see how much they are enjoying tasting the honey."

Honey monsters

Chimps' love of honey and their ingenuity at accessing it are well known amongst primatologists - previous studies have revealed how the great apes can fashion sticks to dip into or prise open nests.

But until now, nobody realised how prevalent the beehive-bashing behaviour was amongst chimpanzees in the Goualougo Triangle in the Congo Basin.

Dr Sanz said: "It seems these chimps in central Africa have developed more sophisticated techniques for getting at the honey than populations in eastern and western Africa - maybe it is some kind of regional feature."

Perhaps for obvious reasons, the chimps avoided bee species that sting, targeting the hives of stingless bees instead.

Dr Sanz told the BBC: "But these nests are tough to get into - they can be at the top of the forest canopy, at the end of a branch - and the chimps will go up there and hang at all sorts of precarious angles to get to the honey, using these clubs in any way that they can to access it."

The video footage, which was filmed by the researchers over four years, revealed the chimps' sheer determination to get at the sweet stuff.

Dr Sanz explained: "Nobody knew they would pound over 1,000 times to get to the honey.

"Sometimes it could take several hours - they would start in the morning at around 1000, then take some rests, and then finish up at about 1400 or 1500 in the afternoon.

"It is quite physically challenging - in the videos you can see how large those pounding clubs are - some weigh over a kilogram."

The primatologists also found that the Congo chimps' tool use was more sophisticated than previously thought.

David Morgan, a co-author on the study from the Wildlife Conservation Society and Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo, said: "One of the most exciting aspects is that they are using multiple tools to access the honey that is in these hives.

"They have a tool kit ready when they go for honey.

"They will have large pounding clubs and they'll use those to hammer the hives.

"And if that doesn't do, if the holes are too small, then they'll access them using smaller, thinner dipping wands. And they are also using smaller sticks for leverage to get better access to the hive."

The researchers also said that once the chimps had spotted and then crafted a suitable club from a branch, by pulling off unwanted twigs and leaves with their teeth or hands, they would set it aside for later use.

Dr Morgan said: "They cache them in the canopy."

Last week, the same team also reported how Goualougo Triangle chimps were crafting fishing rods with a brush-tipped end to fish for termites, and the scientists say there is still much to learn about tool use in these chimps.

However, they told the BBC that the chimps' future was uncertain, as the primates and their habitat were under threat.

Dr Morgan said: "These beehives are found in tree species that are exploited for logging, so this could be a direct affect we have on their behaviour, their feeding and their conservation."

Visit the Goualougo Website here and the Goualougo Youtube page here!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Monkeys learn to floss from mom

Long-tailed macaque monkeys teach their babies to clean their teeth, according to a new study that says females slow down and exaggerate their motions when they notice their young watching them floss.

Macaques living near a Buddhist shrine in Lopburi, Thailand, are known to pull out hair from visitors to use as floss.
Worshipers see the monkeys as divine servants, the researchers said, which helps explain why people let the macaques pull out their hair.
About 50 of these monkeys have been seen jerking strands of hair back and forth between their teeth. Similar behavior has been seen before using coconut fibers or twigs.
To find out how the macaques learn to floss, primatologist Nobuo Masataka at Kyoto University and his colleagues scattered 8-inch-long (20-centimeter-long) hairs from a wig throughout the shrine and videotaped the primates in action.
The researchers focused on seven female adult macaques, each with a one-year-old infant.
When the mothers sat face-to-face with their young, each bout of flossing took roughly twice as long as usual, and the mothers paused and repeated themselves about twice as often.
Markedly similar exaggeration of actions occurs in humans between mothers and children, Masataka said. Scientists have dubbed this teaching behavior motionese.
"These findings suggest education is a very ancient trait in the primate lineage," Masataka said. The last time humans shared an ancestor with macaques, according to genetic analysis, was roughly 25 million years ago.
Further research is needed to confirm if and when the infant monkeys are actually learning to floss from these lessons, Masataka noted.
Findings detailed in the journal PLoS ONE. (Masataka N, Koda H, Urasopon N, Watanabe K, 2009 Free-Ranging Macaque Mothers Exaggerate Tool-Using Behavior when Observed by Offspring. PLoS ONE 4(3): e4768. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0004768)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Very Important Scientist of the Month: Emma Normand

Chimps use geometry to navigate the jungle by Ewen Callaway
from New Scientist online

If you're ever lost in the jungle, follow a chimpanzee. New research suggests the great apes keep a geometric mental map of their home range, moving from point to point in nearly straight lines.

"The kind of striking thing when you are with the chimpanzees in the forest is that we use a compass or GPS, but obviously these guys know where they are going," says Christophe Boesch, a primatologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig.

With the aid of GPS, he and colleague Emmanuelle Normand shadowed the movements of 15 chimpanzees in Côte d'Ivoire's Taï National Park for a total of 217 days.

In a given day, a single animal might visit 15 of the roughly 12,000 trees in its 17-square-kilometre range, Boesch says. "They are kind of nomads."

Chimp tracking

Each morning, researchers woke before a chimpanzee, and then tailed the animal until it went to sleep at day's end – often in a different nest. Researchers recorded their GPS position once a minute.

"We were able to do this study now because of the new GPS technology that works perfectly in the tropical forest. That was not the case five years ago," Boesch says.

After analysing all this data, he and Normand found good evidence that the animals chose their routes using a mental map built around geometric coordinates, as opposed to a navigation style based on landmarks for well-travelled routes.

While darting from fruit tree to fruit tree, individuals tended to move in straight lines, slowing only once they neared their destination. Chimps also visited trees from an angle that depended on current location.

This suggests the chimpanzees do not rely exclusively on landmarks such as specific trees and streams to navigate. These markers could come in handy once a chimp nears its destination.

Travelling in styles

Previous research and everyday experience suggests that humans, too, employ both styles of navigation, depending on their environment.

"In a city you can use roads, which are the classical landmarks, whereas if you are a Pygmy in the tropical rainforest or an Eskimo in the Arctic, where you have nothing as a landmark, then you will learn to get by using more sophisticated means," Boesch says.

Paul Garber, a biological anthropologist at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, thinks that point-to-point distance might not be the only factor involved in a chimpanzee's choice of route.

Quantity and quality of food, as well as competition, could play a role in route choice. Also, like travelling salesmen who optimize their travels, chimpanzees may be thinking about navigation with an eye to the future, Garber says. "They may be planning not just one step in a route, but many, many steps ahead."

Journal reference: Animal Behaviour (DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2009.01.025)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Goualougo Chimpanzees craft the ultimate termite fishing rod

By Rebecca Morelle
Science reporter, BBC News

Scientists believe they have solved the mystery of why some chimpanzees are so good at catching termites.

A team working in the Republic of Congo discovered that the chimps are crafting brush-tipped "fishing rods" to scoop the insects out of their nests.

They filmed the wild primates using their teeth to fashion the tools.

Writing in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, the researchers said the probes' frayed ends helped the chimpanzees to collect more termites.

Lead researcher Crickette Sanz, from the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, said: "They have invented a way to improve their termite-fishing technique."

Surveillance techniques

Previous studies have suggested that wild chimpanzees use brush-tipped tools to fish for termites.

But until now it has been unclear whether this was a specially crafted design feature or whether the frayed edges were a by-product of repeated tool use.

Using remote cameras to film the chimps as they sought out their insect snacks, the team was able to find an answer.

Dr Sanz told the BBC: "We found that in the Goualougo Triangle in the Republic of Congo, the chimpanzees were modifying their termite-fishing tools with a special brush tip."

To make their rods, the chimps first picked some stems from the Marantaceae plant and plucked off the leaves.

"They then pulled the herb stems through their teeth, which were partially closed, to make the brush and they also attended to the brush by sometimes pulling apart the fibres to make them better at gathering the termites," Dr Sanz added.

Learned skill

Further research revealed that a stem with a frayed tip collected 10 times more termites than a pointed probe.

Dr Sanz said: "The chimps seem to understand the function of the tool and its importance in gathering termites."

So far, the team have only found this behaviour in chimps in the Goualougo Triangle.

The apparent absence of this in populations in eastern and western Africa suggests that it is not an innate skill found in all chimpanzees.

Instead it seems that the Goualougo primates are learning the crafting techniques from other chimps.

The researchers say they now want to find out if chimps in this region are creating any other kinds of tools.

Dr Sanz said: "Large areas of central Africa have been largely unstudied and so there are many populations that could have examples of complex tool use that we just do not know about."

However, she added that further research might be hampered as the species was under threat.

"Just as we are learning about these exciting new complex tool behaviours, the chimps that are showing us these behaviours are under danger from logging, poaching and Ebola," she explained.

"There is a lot we need to do to conserve the chimps in the Congo Basin."

Dr Sanz worked on the paper with Josep Call, also from the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology, and David Morgan from the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Visit the Goualougo Website here and the Goualougo Youtube page here!