Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Why Did The Male Chimp Cross The Road? Chivalry, Of Course.

We knew chimps were smart, but who realised they had such impeccable manners? Amazing new film footage, part of a study just published in Current Biology, shows a group of chimps crossing a busy track that had recently opened in a forested area of Guinea, west Africa. As they approach the road, the three males in the twelve-strong pack, adopt positions at the front and the rear. While the one at the front checks the road to make sure the coast is clear the other two leads the five women and four youngsters to safety, also checking for traffic as they go. Researchers Kimberley Hockings at Stirling University and Tetsuro Matsuzawa at Tokyo University reckon the roles reflect the chimps positions within the hierarchy. The Alpha Male of the group, Yolo, adopts a position at the back of the pack in most cases. "Adult males, less fearful and more physically imposing than other group members, take up forward and rearward positions, with adult females and young occupying the more protected middle positions," Hockings and Matsuzawa write. Chimps have been seen working together to extract food in the past, but the pair think their study offers a unique, new insight into how groups of primates work together to solve more complex problems. "Although humans themselves are not predators of these chimpanzees, we propose that road-crossing, a human-created challenge, presents a new situation that calls for flexibility of responses of chimpanzees to variations in perceived risk," they wrote.

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