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Am Nat. 2004 Nov;164(5):567-81. Epub 2004 Sep 24.

New insights into chimpanzees, tools, and termites from the Congo Basin.

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Department of Primatology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Deutscher Platz 6, 04103 Leipzig, Germany.


The tool-using behaviors of wild chimpanzees comprise the most impressive assemblages and flexible repertoires of nonhuman material culture. We expand knowledge of the breadth and complexity of tool use in this species by providing the first descriptions of the form and function of two distinct tool sets used by chimpanzees in preying upon termites within the forests of the Goualougo Triangle, Republic of Congo. Further, we report the first application of remote video monitoring technology to record wild chimpanzee tool-using behavior. Based on tool assemblages recovered at termite nests, we hypothesized that chimpanzees were regularly visiting two forms of termite nests and using specific tools to extract termite prey depending on the structure of the nest. Six months of continuous remote video monitoring at six termite nests confirmed that chimpanzees use a tool set to puncture and fish at subterranean termite nests and another tool set to perforate and fish at epigeal (aboveground) nests. Our findings of strict adherence to tool forms at different nest types, tool material selectivity, repeated visits to nests with reusable wood tool assemblages, and differences in material culture between communities have broad implications for our understanding of the ecological and cultural factors that shape hominoid tool use.

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