Five chimpanzees in the west African country of Guinea have figured out how to deactivate snare traps set by human hunters. What they've learned might even be passed down from chimp generation to generation.
The snare traps are used in the Bossou region of Guinea primarily to capture cane rats. The locals don't eat chimpanzees because the chimpanzees are thought to be the reincarnation of their ancestors, but the snares will trap and kill anything that wanders inside. Still, the Bossou chimpanzees suffer far fewer snare deaths than their counterparts elsewhere, and it's all because they've learned how to avoid this deadly fate.
Researchers from the Japan Monkey Center observed five different male chimpanzees deactivate snares on six separate occasions. Once, they saw a chimp shake a snare until it broke. Another time, a group of adult chimps and a juvenile male came across a trap. The youngest chimp then managed to make the ropes holding the snare together become untied, rendering the trap harmless. All these chimps seemed quite expert and none met with any injuries - indeed, any mistake made would have almost certainly killed or maimed the chimp.
The researchers believe these behaviors have actually been passed down from generation to generation, which is supported by the fact that the juvenile chimp handled the deactivation when it's highly unlikely he was the most experienced of the party. Only the chimps in the Bossou region have displayed this ability. It's possible that this all comes from an individual chimp a few generations back who escaped a snare and passed down these behaviors to all that followed.
What's really amazing is that it isn't one specific action the chimps use to destroy the snares - multiple methods are used, suggesting the chimps really do perceive the snare as a general threat that can be dealt with using different strategies, and not just a stimulus that provokes a particular unthinking response. I guess we can only hope they don't start thinking of humans in the same way, or we really are officially entering Planet of the Apes territory.
[via Discovery News]