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Primates. 2009 Jul;50(3):273-5. doi: 10.1007/s10329-009-0130-9. Epub 2009 Feb 17.

Hand-clapping as a communicative gesture by wild female swamp gorillas.

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  • 1Department of Anthropology and Geography, Oxford Brookes University, Gypsy Lane, Oxford, OX3 0BP, UK.


Hand-clapping is a form of gestural communication commonly observed in captive great apes yet only isolated instances of this behaviour have been documented in the wild. Nearly 20 years ago Fay recorded the first observations of hand-clapping in western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) in the Central African Republic. Here we present observations of Likouala swamp gorillas using hand-clapping as a form of gestural communication in previously undocumented contexts in the wild. We observed hand-clapping on four different occasions in four different groups. The hand-clap was always exhibited by an adult female and always consisted of two consecutive claps conducted in front of the body. We suggest the functional significance of the behaviour was to maintain and enforce group cohesiveness during instances of alarm. These observations suggest western lowland gorillas have a means of communicating that is thus far absent in their eastern counterparts (Gorilla beringei ssp.). This could be a gestural culture found only in western lowland gorillas which should be investigated further to shed light on the evolution of communication among hominoids.

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