Zoo chimp drowns in escape attempt

June 9, 2010

A chimpanzee has drowned during an attempt to escape from Veszprém Zoo in Hungary, pestiside.hu reports.

Ghafula, an 11 year old female, had recently been transferred to the Hungarian facility from her previous quarters in Amersfoort, in the Netherlands.

The chimpanzee failed to settle in her new home, and, in a bid for freedom, attempted to ford the eight metre moat surrounding her enclosure. She was soon out of her depth, and foundered. Keepers rushed to her aid but were unable to resuscitate her.

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Chimps ‘mourn their dead,’ studies find

April 27, 2010

The top rung of the ladder of creation is within the hairy reach of the chimpanzee, two new studies suggest.  Scientists working independently in Scotland and Guinea will publish observations in Current Biology that suggest the apes mourn their loved ones when the Chimp Reaper calls.

Staff at Blair Drummond Safari and Adventure Park near Stirling, UK, used video to observe the passing of Pansy, a 50-year-old captive chimpanzee. 

As she ebbed away over the course of a few days, her troop became subdued, and held grooming vigils as she lay stricken.  When she had died, her daughter stayed by her side for an entire night, despite never having used that sleeping platform before. Later, the chimps cleaned Pansy’s corpse, and subsequently avoided the place of her death.

Dr James Anderson, of The University of Stirling, who used the footage in his study, suggests these may be funerary “rituals” of some rudimentary sort.

“Our … research makes a strong case that chimps not only understand the concept of death but also have ways with which they cope with it,” Anderson told New Scientist.

Also found in Current Biology is the work of Oxford University’s Dora Biro et al., who observed chimpanzees in Bossou district, Guinea, carrying the mummified corpses of their offspring for weeks after their deaths. The mothers eventually relinquished their dead, a decision which Biro thinks is linked to fertility cycles.

“The hormonal changes the chimps experience as their bodies gear up to reproduce may push them into ‘letting go’ of the corpses,” she told New Scientist. “We don’t know that for sure, but our observations suggest that may be true.”

Anderson thinks the chimpanzees’ behaviour further blurs the already-indistinct boundary between humans and the balance of creation.

“Several phenomena have at one time or another been considered as setting humans apart from other species: reasoning ability, language ability, tool use, cultural variation, and self-awareness, for example. But science has provided strong evidence that the boundaries between us and other species are nowhere near to being as clearly defined as many people used to think.

“The awareness of death is another such psychological phenomenon.”

The studies bring academic rigour to anecdotal observations published by The Times last October. Apes at the Sanaga Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Centre in Cameroon maintained a respectful silence as they watched the funeral cortège of Dorothy.


Chimpanzee army storms zoo foodstore

July 7, 2009

A thirty-strong platoon of chimpanzees escaped their enclosure at Chester Zoo and sacked the keepers’ food-preparation area, Reuters reports.

The hungry hominins’ escape prompted a precautionary evacuation of the zoo. An unnamed spokeswoman told Reuters: “We had an army of chimps eating their way through the keeper’s kitchen and the decision was taken, quite rightly, to evacuate.

“By around 4 pm we had managed to get all the chimps back in their enclosure, some of them with very full bellies.”

Zoo director general Gordon McGregor Reid told BBCNews: “It was a bit like an old-fashioned chimps tea party… they’ve certainly had a ball in that room that’s for sure.”

An enquiry is underway to understand how the apes made good their escape. The zoo’s blacksmith has been summoned to inspect door latches.

Although the foodstore was pillaged, the chimpanzee raiding party mercifully failed to discover the powder magazine.


Stone-throwing chimp plans his attacks

March 11, 2009

A chimpanzee at a Swedish zoo has shown an ability to plan for future events by hoarding stones to fling at visitors.

The surly chimp calmly collects stones and broken pieces of concrete while no-one’s around, and stockpiles them for later use. When zoo visitors later appear at his fence to ogle him, he unleashes his cache of weaponry in an “agitated state”.

“We’ve done experimental studies, and the chimps … show very clearly that they do plan for future needs, but … perhaps this was an experimental artefact,” Dr Mathias Osvath, a cognitive scientist from Lund University, told BBC News.

“Now we have this spontaneous behaviour, which is always in some sense better evidence.”

The chimpanzee, named Santino, seems singularly ill-disposed to zoo visitors. Keepers have removed hundreds of his missiles over the years, which are only ever used to pelt members of the public. During zoo-closure periods, Santino neither hoards nor throws his missiles.

The angry ape shows a surprising determination to batter Joe Public. Even when stones are in short supply, he taps portions of his concrete enclosure and listens for weak points, before breaking off pieces loosened by the Scandinavian frost.

During threat displays, chimpanzees are known to throw whatever comes to hand. Frequently, however, this has come straight out of their arses.

“Spontaneous and unambiguous planning behaviours for future states by non-humans have not previously been reported,” Osvath writes in an article for Current Biology.