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Chimps Shed Light on How Humans Learned to Share

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 7 (HealthDay News) -- A group of chimpanzees at a research site frequently share hunting tools and food with each other, something that's widely regarded as a defining characteristic of human behavior.

The finding may shed light on how the earliest humans first started sharing, according to study author Jill Pruetz, a professor of anthropology at Iowa State University.

She and her colleagues observed chimpanzees at the Fongoli research site in Senegal and recorded 41 cases of the chimpanzees sharing either wild plant foods or hunting tools with each other.

Previous studies have documented chimps sharing meat, but this is the first to describe the sharing of items other than meat among chimps that were not related.

The Fongoli chimps are "not the only chimps that share, but in terms of the resources that we cover here, that is unique," Pruetz said in a university news release. "I guess all chimps share meat, but they don't share plants or tools. Yet they do here, in addition to meat. It was intriguing when we first started seeing these events."

The Fongoli chimps are the only habituated community of chimps living in a savannah environment and offer insight into the effect of an open, dry and hot environment on social behavior and organization, Pruetz said.

That means they could provide clues about how the earliest humans began to share.

"There are aspects of human behavior, and I think that's interesting because it's not exactly the same, but it may give you an idea of how it [sharing among early humans] started," Pruetz said. "It's at least one scenario and how it could have come about in our own lineage. To me, it just reinforces how important environment was."

The study is available online in advance of publication in an upcoming print issue of Primates.

More information

The Jane Goodall Institute of Canada has more about chimpanzees.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Iowa State University, news release, Nov. 28, 2011

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