Rwandan mountain gorilla makes a tool for catching food

Lisanga gets ready to catch ants with her new tool. Photo by the Gorilla Doctors.

For the first time, scientists have seen a mountain gorilla use a tool to get and eat food in the wild.

A clever young female named Lisanga watched a silverback from her group get stung by the ants he wanted to snack on when he reached into an ant hole. He ran off hungry. But Lisanga came up with a solution, grabbing a stick from the ground and placing it into the hole. When she lifted it out, ants covered the stick and she licked them off without getting stung. It was the first time a wild mountain gorilla has been observed using a tool.

Two veterinarians from the nonprofit group Gorilla Doctors reported the incident in the American Journal of Primatology. It took place in Virunga National Park, Rwanda, where Ujuzi often leads gorilla tracking excursions.

This new observation attests to something we’ve long known: mountain gorillas have amazing levels of intelligence and creativity, and are well worth the efforts to preserve and learn from them.

Can Vaccines Save Wild Apes?


Last month I wrote about Conservation Through Public Health, a Ugandan non-profit organization that works to decrease the spread of disease between humans and endangered mountain gorillas. While much of its work focuses on preventing human disease outbreaks that could spread to gorillas, the organization also provides life-saving veterinary treatment when infectious diseases strike the mountain gorillas directly — staving off epidemics that could wipe out their population.

Some conservationists would like to go a step further by using vaccines to protect endangered apes. In his Not Exactly Rocket Science blog for National Geographic, science writer Ed Yong recently wrote about a group of University of Cambridge scientists working to develop a chimp vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus. Scientists are also working to develop vaccines to protect chimpanzees from human respiratory syncytial virus (an illness that is usually harmless in humans but can be deadly in chimps) and simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV, which causes a syndrome similar to AIDS in chimps).

But not everyone is in favor of this approach. The vaccines have to be tested on captive chimps first, which raises its own ethical issues. Yong outlines the arguments on both sides in his excellent blog post.

What do you think? How can we best protect the future of our ape cousins?

Bonobos, Our Altruistic Cousins

We’ve long looked to chimpanzees and gorillas, our closest primate relatives, for insights into human culture and behavior. And sometimes the information aren’t always flattering, for they have similar capacities for war and violence. Now a new study suggests that the bonobo may provide some clues to humankind’s altruistic tendencies. Read more.

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