Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Check out the NY Times Science section 4-17-07 for an article by James Noble Wilford (“Almost Human, and Sometimes Smarter"). The primatologists have a new consensus about chimpanzees-- they have emotions and culture. Here are some highlights of the article:

1. Chimps make spears to hunt other primates (looks like our bad habits
go back away):

2. They use rocks to smash open nuts (the oldest chimp hammers yet found date to 2300 BC):

3. [Here is where they beat humans]-- the numbers 1 thru 9 can be randomly scattered over a computer screen (1, 2, 3, etc.), the Chimp get to look for a split second, the screen goes blank and the chimp can push the number buttons and recreate the random pattern by the numbers in order. This is something humans can’t do! Its is an immediate memory recall after a split second, something humans have lost in our evolutionary development. [I don’t know if Chimps are ready for computers but it must come in handy somehow.]

4. Chimps are caring. A chimp by the name of Knuckles was disabled by cerebral palsy. He had to get by as best he could in his group and, “No fellow chimp was seen to take advantage of his disability.” He was even “gently groomed” by the alpha male. [This also looks like an improvement on us.]

This research is important because the chimps are our nearest surviving relatives (our genome only differs by a little over 1%) so we can learn a lot about ourselves and our ancestors by knowing more about chimps.

The problem is they are on the way out! They are being killed for bush meat (this is quasi-canabalistic), and their habitat is being destroyed. In 1960 there a million chimps living in Africa. Today, there are about 150,000 and they are in decline.

I doubt we can save ourselves if we can’t save our closest relatives and evolutionary cousins

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