Chimp Fiona shows her mother an interesting sprig of leaves in human-like behaviour

The latest observation of chimpanzee behaviour in the Kibale National Park, western Uganda, under a long-running study, revealed a form of behaviour that was formerly considered to be a uniquely human attribute. It is this: showing something interesting to another so that they can share the experience. The daughter chimp, Fiona, had picked up a what appears to be a sprig of leaves and was keen to show it to her mom.

Fiona gives twig with leaves to mother to share the experience
Fiona gives twig with leaves to mother to share the experience. Image: University of York.

Katie Slocombe the lead researcher and author of the report on the study from the University of York, UK, said:

“To me it looks like Fiona is saying, ‘Look, look at that, look!’ It is very much like a child showing a new toy, just for the sake of showing – of saying, ‘This is cool!’ And as parents know, the child will keep on showing it until they acknowledge and say, ‘Oh that’s lovely, how nice.'”

In this observation, Fiona’s mother somewhat wearily looks at the sprig of leaves pushed relentlessly towards her as if to say, “Yes dear”. The behaviour intrigued the researchers, and they believe that Fiona was engaged in an activity called “show and tell”.

The behaviour implies that chimpanzees share a “cognitive attribute” that is similar to that of humans. And Katie Slocombe said that:

“This is the first time we have seen evidence of a chimpanzee showing something not because they wanted another chimpanzee to do something about it but just because they wanted to show interest.”

This particular attribute is considered to be important as:

“[The theory was that] engaging in ‘joint attention’ facilitated complex communication and cooperation, of the kind that enabled human society. It was identified as a small step that has massive downstream changes.”

For me, it is yet another instance of revealing the intelligence of animals which, as I have said before, I hope enlightens people in their relationship with animals and I hope that it eventually improves animal welfare.

The study is published in Proceedings of the National Academy Of Sciences.

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