When Jane Goodall first observed chimpanzees in the wild using tools, it was an epoch-making discovery. In October 1960, in Gombe National Park just one hundred kilometres north of our camp in Mahale, Jane watched as a chimp she had named David Greybeard poked a twig into a termite mound to ‘fish’ for his dinner.
For the first time, the ability to conceptualise the solution to a problem and then create a tool to put that solution into practice had been observed in an animal other than a human. In fact, before this event, the use of tools was considered to be one of the defining characteristics that separated homo sapiens from the rest of the animal kingdom.
Which is why our guests at Mahale, the Marks family from Oxfordshire, were so thrilled to see almost identical behaviour among our very own community of wild chimpanzees. Tani, one of our females, broke off the thick stem of a forest leaf and poked it into a hole in the trunk of a fallen tree to attract a tasty meal of live ants. She then demonstrated the technique to her young son, Ckriti, who got the hang of the idea in no time at all as the pair settled down together for a tasty snack. That’s mah boy, indeed!
Photos: Tani & Ckriti feeding courtesy of Martha Marks