Primatologist Tobias Deschner and cognitive biologist Simone Pika of the University of Osnabrück believe that this observation proves that chimpanzees have the capacity to adopt prosocial behaviors associated with empathy in humans.
Chimpanzees in Loango National Park have been tracked by scientists for seven years, but such behavior has never been observed before.
Volunteer Alessandra Mascaro was the first to observe the behavior. In November 2019, she saw the female nicknamed Suzee inspecting a wound on her son Sia’s foot, only to grab an airborne insect, put it in her mouth, and then apply it to the wound.
The volunteer videotaped the scene and showed it to her supervisors.
” In the video, Suzee can be seen looking at her son’s foot first, and then it’s as if she’s thinking, “What could I do?” And then she looks up, sees the insect and catches it for her son. »
The researchers then monitored the Loango chimpanzees to detect these types of behaviors. Over the next 15 months, they documented another 76 cases of individuals applying insects to their wounds or those of other members of the group.
Other animals, such as elephants, bears and bees, have been observed self-medicating.
Until now, the application of insects had never been observed, and chimpanzees treat not only their own wounds, but also those of others.explain the researchers in a press release.
caring about others
Professor Pika explains that the act of applying an insect to another’s wounds is a clear example of prosocial behavior.
” To me, this is particularly interesting because many people doubt the prosocial abilities of nonhuman animals. And here we have a great example of a species where we see individuals caring about others. »
The research team now wants to establish which insects chimpanzees use and what their medicinal properties are. They think it’s possible that insects have soothing, pain-relieving properties.
The study of great apes in their natural environment is crucial to better understand our own cognitive evolution. We need to do more to protect themconcludes Tobias Deschner.
This observation is described in the review Current BiologyHave (New window)Have (in English).