Mary Schwalm/AP

Beware of Chimp: He’s Prepared to Hurt You

March 16, 2009 05:19 PM
by Cara McDonough
A new study reveals that a chimpanzee “planned” attacks on zoo visitors, the first evidence that non-human animals can plan for the future.

Using Stones as Weapons

According to a report in the journal Current Biology, Santino, a chimp at Furuvik Zoo in Sweden, collected stones in a calm state before the zoo opened in the morning.

Later, he launched his stones at visitors in a dominance display, reports the BBC. The findings show that “Santino was anticipating a future mental state—an ability that has been difficult to definitively prove in animals,” according to Mathias Osvath, a cognitive scientist and author of the study.

Osvath said he’s believed for some time that chimps have the ability to plan for future needs, and the current findings back up that theory.

Since an initial discovery in 1997, zoo staff members have found stones stored in the section of the enclosure that faces the public viewing area. Hundreds of stones have been removed over the years to protect visitors.
Osvath believes that wild chimps—not just those in zoos—and other wild animals have planning abilities like those displayed by Santino. Wild animals may even prove to be better planners, he said. “Zoo chimps never have to encounter the dangers in the forest or live through periods of scarce food,” Osvath said. “Planning would prove its value in 'real life' much more than in a zoo.”

Beyond the scientific importance of the finding, news outlets are having a lot of fun with the subject matter. Mother Jones magazine posted a blog entry on Santino’s antics titled “The Chimps are Weaponizing,” and Newsweek’s Web site also includes a post on the finding: “1 Chimp + Many Rocks = Duck!

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Related Topic: Chimp attacks are no laughing matter

Sandra Herold’s pet chimpanzee, Travis, became the center of national attention when he attacked Herold’s friend, Charla Nash, on Feb. 16. Police who reported to the scene shot and killed the 14-year-old, 200-pound animal. Nash suffered serious injuries to her face and hands and was transferred from Connecticut to Ohio's Cleveland Clinic for treatment.

April Truitt, founder of an ape and monkey sanctuary in Kentucky, told the Boston Herald that privately owned chimpanzees can cause trouble and many owners get rid of them when they are 6 or 7 years old and become too much to handle.

Truitt said she’s made it her “hobby” to informally track and follow the privately owned chimps in North America because the animals can be dangerous.

The incident with Travis prompted the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the Captive Primate Safety Act, which would add chimpanzees and other primates to a list of "prohibited wildlife species" that can’t be sold or purchased across state lines.

Reference: The study in Current Biology


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