A chimp that creates hiding places for rocks he throws at zoo visitors reveals for the first time that humanity's closest living relatives can plan to deceive, researchers say.
These findings could shed light on the evolution of higher mental functions such as planning, investigators added.
The chimpanzee known as Santino is the dominant male of his group at Furuvik Zoo in Sweden. Intriguingly, past research showed the ape calmly gathered stones from his enclosure's moat and pieces of concrete he pulled off an artificial island into stockpiles he later hurled at zoo visitors — an instance of spontaneous planning for a future event, a mental ability once widely thought limited to humans.
"A lot of great apes, especially dominant males, throw things at human bystanders," said researcher Mathias Osvath, a comparative cognitive scientist and scientific director of Lund University's Primate Research Station Furuvik in Sweden. "It is most often part of their dominance displays and an effective way to make people move, which is the main purpose of a display. Other individuals are supposed to move during such displays to accept the dominance."
Santino doesn't throw stones at Osvath or others that he knows.
"He never hits anyone, so protective gear is not necessary," Osvath said. "We know each other, and we often play. I don't have to be particularly cautious, more than never forgetting that they are extremely strong animals who can cause serious damage to you if they want to."
Now scientists find Santino appears even more foresighted and innovative than previously thought. The ape conceals his weapon caches, showing that chimpanzees are capable of even more complex planning than once known.
Santino not only hid projectiles behind logs and rocks, he also manufactured ones from hay. All projectiles were placed near the visitors' area, and helped lull visitors into a false sense of security, allowing him the chance to fling his missiles at crowds before they had time to back away.
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