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Is Orangutan Culture Made of Ideas?
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The chimpanzee’s clever use of sticks to fish for termites is fairly well known. In 1964, Jane Goodall announced her groundbreaking discovery to the world, writing in the journal Nature, “During three years in the Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve in Tanganyika, East Africa, I saw chimpanzees use natural objects as tools on many occasions. These objects consisted of sticks, stalks, stems and twigs, which were used mainly in connexion with eating insects, and leaves which were used as ‘drinking tools’ and for wiping various parts of the body.” While the collection of non-human animals known to use tools has expanded significantly in the nearly fifty years since Goodall watched her first Gombe chimp, the act of shoving sticks into termite mounds and snacking on the termites clinging to it has become the iconic example of non-human tool use, the model by which we judge all other possible forms. Perhaps lesser known is that another ape, the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii), also fishes with sticks. Instead of fishing for termites, they fish for honey.

Like humans and chimpanzees, communities of orangutans on the Indonesian island of Sumatra have different traditions. In particular, only those living west of the Alas River have ever been observed fishing for honey with sticks. The behavior has never been observed in the wild among the orangutans living east of the river.

Read more at Scientific American.

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