miércoles, 27 de septiembre de 2006

Chimps share human learning trait

Un-apelike: Georgia researcher finds that animals pass knowledge from one generation to the next, as people do.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 09/26/06

Unlike many of their human cousins, chimps aren't chumps.

Scientists have learned that chimpanzees don't just ape the behavior of their fellows, but actually learn from watching it. And then they pass down what they've learned as a cultural trait from generation to generation.

As far as scientists know, this ability is unique to chimps and humans —- though chimps' Homo sapiens cousins often learn by trial and painful error.

"Culture depends on learning from others," said Victoria Horner, formerly a primate behaviorist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland who's now at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in the piney wilds of Gwinnett County.

She published her findings in the Aug. 28 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science with co-authors Frans de Waal, Yerkes' longtime top ape expert, and St. Andrews scholar Andrew Whiten.

Great apes, which include humans, chimps, gorillas, orangutans and bonobos, are so prone to copying each other's behavior than the name "ape" has become synonymous with miming. But Horner said this study was groundbreaking because it showed that a chain of six chimps went beyond simple mimicking and "faithfully and accurately transmitted behaviors" to each other exactly, down a line of individuals.

It "shows behaviors can spread within a group and down a chain of animals without human intervention, so the chimps effectively learn from each other," she said. "The behavior does not degrade when passed along a chain. Researchers knew chimps could copy human behavior, but this research shows how they learn and copy from each other."

What this means, Horner said, is that chimps possess one of the critical skills necessary to create and maintain cultural differences between groups, and that their behaviors become traditions.

Horner and her colleagues set up experiments at the primate center in which they trained a chimp to open a small brown box containing fruit in one of two ways —- either by lifting the lid or by sliding a small door.

After the first chimp learned to lift the lid of the box open to get to the fruit, they let another one watch the "teacher" demonstrate the technique several times. After the teacher was removed, the new chimp was brought in. And it went straight to the box, lifted the lid and got the fruit out the same way its teacher had. This went on through six teacher-student generations.

The same experiment was replicated after another "teacher" retrieved the fruit by sliding open the door. Then another chimp was brought in, who learned to get the fruit just like that teacher had. This went on until it was clear that each chimp consistently carried on behavior learned from the one it had a chance to watch. A control group showed researchers that through trial and error they could discover a way into the box, even without a teacher.

It became obvious that the chimps were transferring knowledge through a chain of simulated generations, Horner said, showing for the first time that chimps exhibit generational learning behaviors just like humans do.

"The chimpanzees in this study continued using only the technique they observed, rather than an alternative method," Horner said. "This finding is particularly remarkable considering the chimpanzees in the control group were able to discover both methods through individual exploration."

Such research is important, de Waal said, because chimps are humans' closest cousins, and by learning more about how they learn, it helps us to understand ourselves.

"Everything in human culture was passed down through the generations," de Waal said. "Now we've shown in the chimps that the learning mechanisms needed to have culture are there."

"This tells us that they're darn near as smart as humans. We share 98.4 percent of our genes. It is important to know what makes us special and not so special," de Waal said. "We are looking at them for clues about how we got to be what we are and why we do what we do."

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viernes, 22 de septiembre de 2006

Hallado en Etiopía el fósil de una niña con rasgos simiescos de hace 3,3 millones de años




Un equipo de investigadores dirigidos por el Instituto Max Plank de Antropología Evolutiva en Leipzig (Alemania) ha descubierto en Etiopía el fósil de una niña de hace 3,3 millones de años de la especie Astrolopithecus afarensis y que tiene rasgos simiescos. Las conclusiones de su estudio se publican esta semana en la revista Nature.

Los investigadores han descubierto los restos fósiles de una niña de esta primitiva especie humana, a la que pertenece el fósil de Lucy. El esqueleto representa el descubrimiento de los primeros restos infantiles en este periodo de la evolución humana, lo que lo convierte en el niño más antiguo descubierto hasta el momento.

Caminaba erguido

El fósil, que posee 3,3 millones de años de antigüedad, y fue descubierto en una excavación en Dikika (Etiopía), pertenece probablemente a una niña que tenía no más de tres años cuando murió. Las características del esqueleto apoyan la teoría de que el Astrolopithecus afarensis caminó erguido, pero los brazos similares a los del gorila sugieren que podría haber tenido la capacidad de balancearse a través de los árboles.

El descubrimiento fue realizado en una región, denominada Formación Hadar, que posee importantes antecedentes de hallazgos fósiles.

miércoles, 6 de septiembre de 2006

Big chimp refuge offers life with no cages


ORT PIERCE - Chimps in tutus - it's enough to start Carol Noon on a tirade.

"It's degrading," she says. "It's hard to engender respect for a species when they're sitting there in a tutu."

Noon is gruff, her words are clipped and it's clear she's not fond of human interaction. She refuses to pose for a picture with a baby chimp, saying it's wrong to take one from it's mother for a prop.

But put her around the chimps, her 93 children, and her whole demeanor softens. Her life's work reflects that.

She's managed to do what no one else has done for the endangered species, building what she says will be the largest chimpanzee refuge in the world. When it's complete in 2008, 291 chimps will roam virtually free on 12 islands, dotted with jungle gyms, hammocks, tire swings - and no cages.

They've had enough of cages in their lives, says Noon, who sued the Air Force in 2000 to get custody of 21 chimps. Though she was successful, most of the damage had already been done.

The chimps were poked, injected with diseases and operated on for experiments after the Air Force sold them to The Coulston Foundation, a now-closed biomedical research facility in Alamogordo, N.M.

Noon calls it "the dungeon."
Spitting her words, she says Coulston's lab had the worst history of abuse in the country. It was the only one charged by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for violating the federal Animal Welfare Act four times.

"These chimps have had so many experiments done on them," she says with a sigh.

She says one of the chimps, Dana, donated a kidney to a baboon. Others were fitted in space suits and strapped into centrifuges to see how long it took them to black out. All were isolated - torture for such social beings - and left in cold, tiny cages, too small for them to stand up.

Noon bought the facility when it bankrupted in 2002 and got custody of an additional 266 chimps. Almost immediately, she gutted the place, widening the cages, replacing the bars with mesh to bring in sunlight and giving the chimps blankets, toys and fresh food.

"When I gave out blankets for the first time in New Mexico, a lot of people were afraid of them," she says.

Eventually, Noon started what has become the great American chimp migration as she transports 10 at a time in a custom-built 38-foot trailer, where each animal has its own air-conditioned window seat.

Forming families
She didn't start out wanting to dedicate her life to primates. She watched some in a zoo and was fascinated by their behavior. It sort of snowballed from there.

An anthropologist who got her Ph.D. from the University of Florida, Noon specializes in resocialization and carefully chooses which chimps will go together to form "families" on the islands. But it was her training in 1989 at the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage in Zambia - where the animals were kept in 14-acre enclosures - that Noon says changed everything.

She wanted to bring the same idea back to the U.S.

"It took someone like Carole Noon to rescue the chimpanzees at Coulston," said Jane Goodall, the famed primatologist. "I was absolutely thrilled to see them on the island at the Florida sanctuary. The individual stories of their rehabilitation are truly moving."

On a recent afternoon, Noon tools around the 200-acre compound in a golf cart, a walkie-talkie clipped to her dirty pants and her dog Esther riding in the front seat.

"That's the old lady running for the first time in 40 years," she says proudly, pointing to Lisa, a shiny, black 45-year-old who spent 43 years in labs after she was captured from Africa as a baby.

All around the facility, construction workers are pounding away, hurrying to finish another feeding room or jungle gym. Four of the 12 islands remain unoccupied.

When she bought the land in 1999, her construction company dug the 17-foot deep moats, built the feeding houses and erected the jungle gyms. Almost two years later, the first batch of chimps moved in.

An estimated 200,000 chimps still live in Africa, a rapid decrease from a few million just 50 years ago. The U.S. is home to 2,400 captive chimps, a few hundred of them live in zoos and work in Hollywood. About 1,700 are used in biomedical testing.

Most of the chimps on the island are in their 40s and maybe have another decade left to live. Because Noon doesn't believe in captive breeding, the males have had vasectomies. The animals weigh about 200 pounds and are three times stronger than humans.

Progress, hard work
Since arriving on the islands, the chimps' progress is both subtle and extraordinary.

Tami and Henrietta refused to gain weight, despite the number of high-calorie nutrition drinks they were fed in New Mexico. Here, they developed a bit of a belly. Ebony, who was almost hairless from the waist down, suddenly has hair. Shy, insecure Alice transformed on the ride over, banging on her window to draw the attention of passersby.

Yes, Noon knows them all by name. And they clearly recognize her voice, about 11 congregate at the food house, clamoring for her attention.

"That's Marissa, you can tell by the attitude. That's Ted on the right and Spudnut" she says.

"They're so complicated. If they fight, they pick sides and they make up. They play, they fight, they steal food and share food, they're exactly like a family."

Sarah refuses to share her plastic toy mirror, hiding it in her belly when she isn't gazing at it. Roxy carries around her two stuffed animals - a chimp and a monkey - on her hip and lately has been teaching them to climb.

It takes a staff of 69 to run the two facilities. On Wednesday, about six are busy in the spacious kitchen cutting apples, lettuce, carrots, oranges and of course bananas into large plastic bins. The chimps also eat granola bars, smoothies and juice boxes, but their favorite meal is dinner, when they feast on organic meal replacement bars donated by a local company.

The chimps eat about $160,000 worth of food a year and drink nearly 20,000 gallons of water a day, Noon says.

It takes a small fortune to run the two facilities - though she will close the one in New Mexico once the chimps are all in Florida. Save the Chimps receives no government money, relying solely on donations to fund the $2.5 million a year operation. For $120 a year donors can click on www.savethechimps.org and adopt an animal.

But it's the least we can do for them, says Noon. She recalls the first day she brought the chimps to the islands, how she watched their thick bodies embrace each other, romp on the jungle gyms together and feel grass under their feet for the first time.

"I said to the staff, 'Do you think we'll ever get tired of this?' Four years later, I feel the same way I felt that first day."

Article published Sep 5, 2006
Sep 4, 2006

Fuente: www.gainesville.com