martes, 12 de junio de 2007

Chimps pass on gadget use like humans

Troops often are distinct from one another because of learned behavior

By Charles Q. Choi
Updated: 11:39 a.m. ET June 8, 2007

Chimpanzees readily learn and share techniques on how to fiddle with gadgets, new research shows, the best evidence yet that our closest living relatives pass on customs and culture just as humans do.

The new findings help shed light on the capabilities of last common ancestor of humans and chimps. And the research could also help develop better robots and artificial intelligences, the researchers say

In the wild, chimpanzee troops often are distinct from one another, possessing collections of up to 20 traditions or customary behaviors that altogether seem to form unique cultures. Such practices include various forms of tool use, including hammers and pestles; courtship rituals such as leaf-clipping, where leaves are clipped noisily with the teeth; social behaviors such as overhead hand-clasping during mutual grooming; and methods for eradicating parasites by either stabbing or squashing them.

While observing chimpanzees, evolutionary psychologist Antoine Spiteri at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland wanted to help settle the question of whether or not the apes learned such practices by watching others like humans do, as opposed to simply knowing how to perform such behaviors innately.

Spiteri and his colleagues investigated six groups of chimpanzees, each with eight to 11 apes, living in captivity in Bastrop, Texas. The researchers taught a lone chimpanzee from one group one technique for obtaining food from a complex gadget, such as stabbing food with a tool. They next taught one chimp from another group a different technique for extracting food from the same gadget, such as pushing it out down a ramp.

The extremely hot Texas weather made it hard for researchers to work, "and because participation by the chimpanzees in each of these studies has been completely voluntary, it sometimes means that we as experimenters have had to be extremely patient," Spiteri recalled. "Considering the insights we have gathered, it has been worth the sacrifice."

Over time, the researchers found each technique for tool use and food extraction spread within each group. In essence, these groups displayed their own unique culture and local traditions.

A number of these chimpanzee groups are next-door neighbors within eyeshot of each other, and researchers found traditions proved catching, with foraging practices spreading from one group to another, findings detailed in the June 19 issue of the journal Current Biology.

"The possibility that some primates may be able to learn from others has great implications on how we treat them and how we think about ourselves," Spiteri told LiveScience. "These results indicate to us that chimps have a capacity for cultural complexity, which was likely shared by our common ancestor going back around 5 million years ago."

This work is "particularly useful to robotic development and artificial intelligence," Spiteri added. "Understanding how the mechanisms of imitation and social learning can help us develop artificial beings that can behave and evolve in the way that we do and ultimately it may help us create other brains."

© 2007 All rights reserved.

jueves, 7 de junio de 2007

Chimp culture is passed between groups

17:00 07 June 2007 news service
Nora Schultz

A chimp observes a peer opening a cube for food (Image: Lewis Haughton)Chimp populations, like humans, have local customs, and these cultural practices can spread to other troops, researchers say.

The spread of such traditions and innovations to different groups is an important hallmark of culture, and a necessary part of development through social learning, they say.

Andrew Whiten at the University of St Andrews, UK, and colleagues taught individual chimpanzees one of two ways to solve complex foraging tasks, and observed how the different techniques spread across two sets of three groups. The chimps had to manipulate a combination of buttons, levers or discs to extract treats from cubes. Watch a video of chimps completing the tasks.

Although no chimps cracked the puzzles without instruction during an initial encounter with the cubes, animals in the two groups learned quickly how to work the devices when watching a peer who had been trained in one of the two possible sets of solutions.

Within a few days, most chimps mastered the techniques that had been "seeded" this way in their group.

Distance learning

The cubes were then moved into the view of a second set of chimp groups, so they could observe their respective neighbours solving the tasks. The new groups learned the same techniques as demonstrated in the adjacent enclosure, and then passed their set of tricks on to a third group in another round of experiments.

"This is the first time we can show such transmission of socially learned behaviour patterns between groups of animals", says Antoine Spiteri, who was involved in the study.

The team had previously found social learning of similarly complex tasks within groups, but to spread widely, cultural traditions must catch on with new groups, too, the researchers say.

Carel van Schaik at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, who studies orang-utan culture, says that the new results show "beyond a doubt that apes are capable of transmitting pretty complex traditions. The question is now to what extent this reflects what's going on in the wild."
Group dynamics

Van Schaik's group hopes to find out more about this by measuring "peering" behaviour in wild orang-utans - highly-focused watching of another animal from a short distance which may be a potential mechanism for social learning. "The whole picture is coming together", he says.

Next Spiteri wants to unravel exactly how chimp culture spreads: "We need to see how status and prestige of different animals affect who learns from whom."

An analysis of Whiten's group's studies already shows that the order in which individuals in each group picked up new traditions was similar for foraging tasks, but not for unrelated tasks, giving first insights into the dynamics of cultural transmission.

Journal reference: Current Biology (DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2007.05.031)

Too cute for comfort

By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website, The Hague

Some pictures may speak a thousand words, but this speaks just two: "cuddle me!"

The slow loris, native to large swathes of Asia, must be one of the most appealing creatures on the planet.

"The pet shops advertise them, and they're very popular to Japanese ladies," says Masayuki Sakamoto from the Japan Wildlife Conservation Society.

"They're easy to keep, they don't cry, they're small, and just very cute."

In Japan, a slow loris will cost you between $1,500 and $4,500; but that conceals the real cost of the pet trade, measured in ripped fingers, bloody mouths, and babies unable to clean up their own defecation.

"They'll pull out its teeth so the vendor can say it's a baby," recounts Anna Nekaris, a loris specialist based at Oxford Brookes University in the UK.

"They're kept in wire cages; and because of the special network of blood vessels they have, when they're pulled out of the cages it cuts their hands and feet."

Domestic trade is prevented under law in all the range states, yet it's widespread and carried out in an open manner which points to a need for better domestic enforcement
Chris Shepherd, Traffic
Babies separated from their parents are unable to clean themselves. Their fur becomes caked with urine, faeces and oily skin secretions; a large proportion (between 30% and 90%) die in transit.

The Cambodian government is applying for a ban on the international trade in the slow loris; in technical terms, uplisting these primates from Appendix 2 to Appendix 1 within the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

That bid will be heard here, at the CITES meeting. But not all conservation groups are backing it, the implication being that sentiment may be obstructing rational analysis of the problem.

The big unknown

It used to be assumed that the slow loris was a single species, its range stretching from northern India down through Burma, Thailand, and peninsular Malaysia, across into Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos and into the islands of Indonesia and the Philippines.

Dr Nekaris is one of the researchers who have repainted the loris picture, and five species are now recognised, though that may still be an underestimate.

The scale of the threat is also unclear. Population estimates are often based on small surveys, and the official Red List of Threatened Species notes a lack of data from many areas, although a more recent specialist workshop categorised all five species as either Endangered or Vulnerable to extinction.

Nobody knows the scale of the international loris trade either. Between 1998 and 2006, Japanese authorities seized 363 animals, while Thai, Indonesian and Singaporean officials uncovered 358 specimens bound for Japan.

Wildlife trade experts work on the basis that about 10% of shipments are found, but that might be an underestimate in the case of the slow loris, whose survival instinct is to curl up and do nothing, making them easy to hide in a suitcase.

Threatened organisms listed on three appendices depending on level of risk
Appendix 1 - all international trade banned
Appendix 2 - international trade monitored and regulated
Appendix 3 - trade bans by individual governments, others asked to assist
"Uplisting" - moving organism to a more protective appendix, "downlisting" - the reverse
Conferences of the Parties (COPs) held every three years
CITES administered by UN Environment Programme (Unep)
The animals are also traded to the Middle East, Europe, China and the US; even so, trade may not be the biggest issue.

"The species are in international trade, but current information indicates that the extent of that trade is relatively limited and its impact likely to be insignificant compared with other factors," notes the expert assessment from the World Conservation Union (IUCN) prepared for the CITES meeting.

IUCN suggests that habitat loss may be a more important factor in their decline.

If delegates agree with this sober assessment, the slow loris will be judged not to meet the criteria for CITES Appendix 1, and international trade will not be banned, whatever the loris' emotional appeal.

Painful birth

In southeast Asia, cuteness is not all the slow loris has to offer.

A traditional Cambodian medicine to alleviate childbirth pain is loris wine, each bottle made from the bodies of three animals mixed with rice wine.

Carcasses are dried and smoked for use in other traditional remedies. There is trade here, often from rural areas into cities, but it rarely crosses international borders.

"I think domestic trade is by far the most urgent issue we should be looking at," says Chris Shepherd of the wildlife trade monitoring organisation Traffic. "We'd like to urge enforcement agencies in range states and consumer countries, which are often the same, to close down the domestic markets

"Domestic trade is prevented under law in all the range states, yet it's widespread and carried out in an open manner which points to a need for better domestic enforcement."

As a specialist agency officially charged by CITES with gathering data on some issues (such as the ivory trade), Traffic's advice is influential, and it does not support the uplisting - not through lack of concern, but because it does not see international trade as the key issue.

Anna Nekaris, though, believes uplisting would increase awareness of the loris' plight among the public, and within enforcement agencies.

"At the moment they're seen as just a little brown animal, and most CITES officials probably wouldn't distinguish it from a lemur," she says.

"An Appendix 1 listing would bring more education for these officers, and would help them realise that this is something they should be looking out for."

The Cambodian bid is backed by animal welfare groups. Pictures of these cutest of creatures apparently shivering in terror in market cages have tremendous emotional appeal.

But CITES is supposed to work on sound science, not emotion. We will see whether delegates can resist the appeal of those big round eyes and clinging fingers.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2007/06/07 15:28:04 GMT


Cursos de Investigación en la Universidad Santiago de Compostela

lunes, 4 de junio de 2007

Banco de Sonidos

Banco de Sonidos del Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia

Macauly Library

British Library

Universidad Humboldt

Wildlife Sound Recording Society

Próximos eventos en primatología

Dates: June 11, 2007 - June 14, 2007
Location: Villa Erba, Cernobbio (CO) Italy
Web Site:

Dates: June 18, 2007 - June 27, 2007
Sponsor: South South Initiative for Tropical Diseases Research (SSI) of TDR/WHO
Location: Institute of Primate Research, National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya
Web Site:

Dates: June 20, 2007 - June 23, 2007
Sponsor: Wake Forest University School of Medicine
Location: Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, NC
Web Site:

Dates: June 21, 2007 - June 24, 2007
Sponsor: Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA)
Location: Kigali, Rwanda

Dates: July 21, 2007 - July 25, 2007
Sponsor: ABS
Location: Burlington Sheraton Hotel and Conference Center in Burlington, Vermont
Web Site:

Dates: August 8, 2007 - August 10, 2007
Sponsor: Laboratory Animal Welfare Training Exchange (LAWTE); with the Massachusetts Society for Medical Research (MSMR), The New England Branch of AALAS (NEBAALAS) Covance, and Amgen
Location: Radisson Hotel in Boston, MA
Web Site:

Dates: August 21, 2007 - August 25, 2007
Sponsor: the Japanese Society of Alternatives to Animal Experiments (JSAAE), the Alternative Congress Trust (ACT), and the Science Council of Japan (SCJ)
Location: Hotel East 21 Tokyo, Japan
Web Site:

Dates: September 3, 2007 - September 7, 2007
Sponsor: the Czech Group of Primatologists at the Faculty of Education in Prague
Location: Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic
Web Site:

Dates: September 10, 2007 - September 13, 2007
Sponsor: California National Primate Research Center, University of California Davis
Location: Monterey, California
Web Site:

Dates: October 24, 2007 - October 27, 2007
Sponsor: Asociacion Mexicana de Primatologia, AC; Instituto de Investigaciones Antropologicas, UNAM
Location: Instituto de Investigaciones Antropologicas, UNAM, Mexico City, Mexico
Web Site:

Dates: December 7, 2007 - December 9, 2007
Sponsor: ClickerTraining
Location: Munich, Germany
Web Site:

Dates: August 3, 2008 - August 8, 2008
Sponsor: Primate Society of Great Britain
Location: Edinburgh International Conference Centre in Edinburgh, Scotland
Web Site:

viernes, 1 de junio de 2007

Hunting chimps may change view of human evolution

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science EditorThu Feb 22, 12:50 PM ET

Chimpanzees have been seen using spears to hunt bush babies, U.S. researchers said on Thursday in a study that demonstrates a whole new level of tool use and planning by our closest living relatives.

Perhaps even more intriguing, it was only the females who fashioned and used the wooden spears, Jill Pruetz and Paco Bertolani of Iowa State University reported.

Bertolani saw an adolescent female chimp use a spear to stab a bush baby as it slept in a tree hollow, pull it out and eat it.

Pruetz and Bertolani, now at Cambridge University in Britain, had been watching the Fongoli community of savanna-dwelling chimpanzees in southeastern Senegal.

The chimps apparently had to invent new ways to gather food because they live in an unusual area for their species, the researchers report in the journal Current Biology.

"This is just an innovative way of having to make up for a pretty harsh environment," Pruetz said in a telephone interview. The chimps must come down from trees to gather food and rest in dry caves during the hot season.

"It is similar to what we say about early hominids that lived maybe 6 million years ago and were basically the precursors to humans."

Chimpanzees are genetically the closest living relatives to human beings, sharing more than 98 percent of our DNA. Scientists believe the precursors to chimps and humans split off from a common ancestor about 7 million years ago.

Chimps are known to use tools to crack open nuts and fish for termites. Some birds use tools, as do other animals such as gorillas, orangutans and even naked mole rats.

But the sophisticated use of a tool to hunt with had never been seen.

Pruetz thought it was a fluke when Bertolani saw the adolescent female hunt and kill the bush baby, a tiny nocturnal primate.

But then she saw almost the same thing. "I saw the behavior over the course of 19 days almost daily," she said.


The chimps choose a branch, strip it of leaves and twigs, trim it down to a stable size and then chew the ends to a point. Then they use it to stab into holes where bush babies might be sleeping.

It is not a highly successful method of hunting. They only ever saw one chimpanzee succeed in getting a bush baby once. The apes mostly eat fruit, bark and legumes.

Part of the problem is this group of chimps is shy of humans, and the females, who seem to do most of this type of hunting, are especially wary. "I am willing to bet the females do it even more than we have seen," she said.

Pruetz noted that male chimps never used the spears. She believes the males use their greater strength and size to grab food and kill prey more easily, so the females must come up with other methods.

"That to me was just as intriguing if not even more so," Pruetz said.

The spear-hunting occurred when the group was foraging together, again unchimplike behavior that might produce more competition between males and females, she said.

Maybe females invented weapons for hunting, Pruetz said.

"The observation that individuals hunting with tools include females and immature chimpanzees suggests that we should rethink traditional explanations for the evolution of such behavior in our own lineage," she concluded in her paper.

"The multiple steps taken by Fongoli chimpanzees in making tools to dispatch mammalian prey involve the kind of foresight and intellectual complexity that most likely typified early human relatives."