In one of the more unique and interesting finds in the science community in recent memory a team filmed a group of wild chimpanzees only to find them innovatively create a new tool, and the knowledge of that tool spread throughout the community.
The filming happened in Uganda, and the team noticed initially a few of the wild chimps creating a new type of leaf sponge. Chimps use leaf sponges to drink water. However, as the rest of the group began seeing how successful the different sponge method was – it quickly spread outward throughout the community.
Lead researcher Dr. Catherine Hobaiter, from the University of St Andrews, described the teams finding as something really incredible and noted that the team members “were insanely lucky.”
Luck or not, the team definitely stumbled onto something spectacular. The team first noticed a particularly dominant male chimp using moss as opposed to leaves to make the sponge they use to drink water. Soon thereafter, other chimps were doing the same. First, picking up the old used sponges, evaluating them – and then eventually the process itself caught on.
The findings secure the concept that like human culture, change rarely happens instantaneously, or is extreme in nature. Rather change will typically happen slowly, but surely, and happen over a long, and controlled time period. However, this learning, and the technique that was shared also reinstated sentiments around social learning.
The findings with these particular chimps show that the animals often learn through social interaction, trial and error, and of course – seeing things that are successful for other members of the group or community.
Soon thereafter, learnings like this can become trends and eventually – as was this case – you have an entire group of chimps utilizing the moss in the same way the dominant chimp did initially.
Humans have long been considered the most obvious example of this type of learning and culture shift. However, this is one of the first prime examples of how it actually has impacts beyond the human world, and actually plays a role in nature as well.
However, Dr Susan Schultz from the University of Manchester said that the findings weren’t surprising at all, but reiterated that currently “there are so few studies that can demonstrate its utility in the wild,” that more research will need to be done before any great conclusions can be made on the subject right now. Though this is a major step forward.