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Thursday, 17 August, 2000, 12:35 GMT 13:35 UK
Chimps take cooking tips
Chimp (BBC)
Chimps learn new types of behaviour through social interaction
By BBC News Online's Anne Lavery

Apes have taken another step closer to human behaviour.

A group of captive chimps in Spain have started to purée their food. This is the first known case of chimps preparing food purely to please their palettes.

The chimps do this because they have more time and are bored

Dr Jane Goodhall

Chimps are very creative when it comes to obtaining food. They can spend hours fishing termites out of mounds using a thin stick or cracking open nuts with exactly the right shaped stones.

However, primatologist Dr Samuel Fernández Carriba at Autonoma University, Madrid, who has been observing the chimps, says there is a difference between getting hold of food and "transforming it the human way".

The chimp behaviour is reported in New Scientist.

Gourmet chefs

The master chef of the chimp group is Linda, whose teeth were removed by a previous owner to avoid being bitten.

Chimps at the university zoo are fed whole fruits and vegetables so Linda worked out that she could eat apples by rubbing them over a sharp corner and licking the pulp off the wall. Carrot, lemon and orange purées soon followed

Other chimps began to imitate her technique and now nearly the whole group indulges in this culinary pursuit.

Unlike Linda, the other chimps have no practical need to prepare their food. Dr Carriba believes that since they choose to take the time to do it, they are enjoying the new tastes and textures produced.

New tricks

Renowned chimp expert Dr Jane Goodall said: "This is totally fascinating. It's one more example of the ingenuity of chimps.

Chimp (BBC)
Young chimps can pass on their tricks to new groups
"They've started this behaviour in this case because they're captive and have more time and are bored. In the wild, only the young are inventive because they have more time to play around.

"The reason we don't see this kind of adult behaviour in the wild is probably because they simply don't have time. Instead, chimps spend lots of time on complex food acquisition."

Dr Goodall said that chimps could often be observed learning new tricks from each other. Experiments in zoos around the world have shown that when young chimps are moved from one group to another, the new group picks up the young's useful behaviour patterns.

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