Page last updated at 08:58 GMT, Monday, 8 March 2010

Bonobos opt to share their food

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The bonobo opts to share his treats (Footage: David Hare/Suzy Kwetuenda)

One of our closest primate relatives, the bonobo, has been shown to voluntarily share food, scientists report.

This sort of generous behaviour was previously thought by some to be an exclusively human trait.

But a team has carried out an experiment that revealed that bonobos were more likely to choose to share their food than opt to dine alone.

The research is published in the journal Current Biology.

Dr Brian Hare from Duke University, US, and Suzy Kwetuenda from Lola y Bonobo, a centre for orphaned bonobos in the Democratic Republic of Congo, gave a hungry bonobo access to a room with some food in it.

This room was adjacent to another two rooms, which the creature could easily see into. One of these rooms was empty while the other contained another bonobo.

Bonobos
Scientists want to find out what drives this behaviour

The hungry primate could then choose to eat the food alone or unlock the door by removing a wooden peg and share his fare with the other bonobo.

Dr Hare wrote in Current Biology: "We found that the test subjects preferred to voluntarily open the recipient's door to allow them to share the highly desirable food that they could have easily eaten alone."

They now hope to uncover why the bonobos seem to prefer to share their food.

Dr Hare said it could be purely altruistic, or more selfish motives could drive this behaviour because sharing could be exchanged for future favours.

The researchers hope this work could also shed light on what drives humans to voluntarily share.



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