Why do wild bonobos not use tools like chimpanzees do?

In: Behaviour
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  • 1 Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University, Inuyama, Aichi 484-5806, Japan
  • 2 Department of Anthropology, Washington University, 1 Brookings Drive, Saint Louis, MO 63130, USA
  • 3 Congo Program, Wildlife Conservation Society, B.P. 14537, Brazzaville, Republic of Congo
  • 4 Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Street, Cambridge CB2 1QH, UK
  • 5 Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes, Lincoln Park Zoo, North Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60614, USA

One of the most conspicuous behavioural differences among great apes is the paucity of tool use among wild bonobos (Pan paniscus) in comparison to chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) who are one of the most prolific and skilled tool users in the animal kingdom. This is in spite of the fact that bonobo tool use repertories are as large and diverse as chimpanzees’ in captive settings. In this study, we compared tool using behaviours and potential drivers of these behaviours in the Wamba bonobo population located in central Democratic Republic of Congo with the Goualougo chimpanzee population of northern Republic of Congo. The tool use repertoire of wild bonobos was comprised of only 13 behaviours, compared to 42 for chimpanzees. However, the number of tool behaviours observed in each study site was similar between bonobos and chimpanzees, and many types of tool use for social, self-grooming/stimulation, and comfort/protection functions were commonly used by both species. A marked difference is that 25 of 42 tool behaviours exhibited by chimpanzees are performed for feeding, in contrast to a single report of bonobos using a leaf sponge to drink water. We examined whether the differences in tool use repertoires can be explained by the necessity, opportunity, relative profitability, or invention hypotheses. We found that habitat composition and fluctuation of fruit production at these two sites were similar, particularly when compared with variation observed between sites within each species. Thus it was unlikely that the necessity hypothesis explains the lack of tool use for feeding in bonobos. Though further study at Wamba is needed, we did not identify any obvious differences in prey availability that would indicate differences in tool using opportunities between the sites. This study could not test the relative profitability hypothesis, and further research is needed on whether tool use is the most efficient means of calorie or protein intake for wild apes. Bonobos at Wamba formed much larger and stable parties than chimpanzees at Goualougo, which was contrary to the prediction by the invention hypothesis. Another explanation is that differences in tool use behaviour between bonobos and chimpanzees might not be explained by the current ecological or social conditions, but rather by circumstances during the Pleistocene Epoch. The observed species differences might also reflect divergent behavioural predispositions, rather than actual differences in cognitive abilities.

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