Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Wild Chimpanzees Are Altruistic, Adopt Orphans, Max Planck Anthropologists Findings Contrary to Zoo Studies of Chimps

Chimpanzees behave altruistically in the wild,  contrary to what is shown by zoo kept chimps, wild chimpanzees show an unselfish willingness to help unrelated group members in lower ranking positions. They share food, hunt together and come to the aid of hurt or endangered tribe members. For many years researchers believed altruism was a trait exclusive to humans.

That assumption, which was supported by experimental studies of zoo animals, must be revised now.  A research team led by Christophe Boesch, director of the Department of Primatology at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, reports of 18 cases, in which orphaned pups were adopted of group members in the Taï National Park in Ivory Coast.

Half of the orphans were adopted by males, which - except in one case - were not the father. The adult animals care intensely for adopted orphans for several years. Chimpanzees have been found  in the wild to care for the welfare of other unrelated group members. Altruism in chimpanzees is much more widespread than it had previously suggested studies of zoo animals The results of their research was published in PLoS ONE,  on January 26th, 2010.

Figure 1 Freddy, an adult male, with his adopted son, Victor: Freddy opens one Xylia-pod, and it shares with the young chimps

Figure 2 Freddy takes his adopted son Victor on his back. "It was overwhelming to see how Freddy, a big strong male, closed the gaps in the branches with his body, so the little whimpering Victor could reach the branches with the fruit," said Christophe Boesch.

A team of researchers led by Christophe Boesch of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology will now clarify the conditions under which chimpanzees act altruistically towards other group members.

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