CZAAWE Resource Article

An experimental, comparative investigation of tool use in chimpanzees and gorillas
Publication Type 
Journal Article
Year of publication 
Animal Behaviour
Studies of ape tool use have been conducted in captivity since the early 1900s and in the wild since the 1960s. Chimpanzees are the most prolific tool users among the apes, and are known to use more tools than any other nonhuman animal. In contrast, reports of gorilla tool use are rare both in wild and captive settings. Studies of the processes involved in tool use learning have been limited in the wild by the lack of ability to control several unpredictable variables, and in captivity by tool use opportunities that are often presented in non-naturalistic contexts. We attempted to address both of these limitations by providing naı¨ve subjects with a naturalistic tool use device (built to simulate a termite mound) while housed in a more natural social setting to approximate how learning would occur in the wild. Both gorillas and chimpanzees participated in the experiment to allow comparative analyses of acquisition of tool behaviour and the factors that may affect acquisition. Both species showed low frequencies of interaction with the mound in the baseline condition, before baiting with a food reward. Once baited, chimpanzees both attempted and succeeded to extract the reward more quickly than did gorillas. The number of social group members at the mound was significantly higher for chimpanzees than for gorillas and may have affected skill acquisition. We advocate that comparative approaches to skill acquisition and learning are valuable, but that researchers need to be cognizant of species differences in social structure that may affect results.